Sensitive workers may perceive everyday interactions as harassment. But courts don’t measure whether workplace hostility exists based on that employee’s subjective assessment of the situation. Instead, a court will focus on how a hypothetical “reasonable” employee would view it.
Recent case: Juliet, who worked for a federal housing agency, is of Middle Eastern origins. In her first months, she began complaining that she was routinely given work at the last minute, which she found stressful.
Her supervisor suggested she look into the. Juliet viewed that as harassment. Then she complained co-workers stood too close to her when talking. She also complained about her office location and requested a move. Once in a new office, she griped about the lights.
Juliet sued, alleging national-origin discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation for her complaints. The court tossed out the case, noting that the incidents represented common workplace problems and didn’t create a hostile work environment just because Juliet was overly sensitive and perceived them as such.
The measure isn’t solely the worker’s perception of hostility, but includes a reasonable worker’s perception, too. Otherwise, behavior that others would see as normal or borderline would end up violating the law because of one worker’s sensitivities. (Arvakhi v. Castro, No. 2:14-CV-02816, CD CA, 2015)