Petty incidents don’t add up to a hostile environment

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has made it official: Sometimes an employee just needs to grow a thicker skin to deal with the petty annoyances that vex many workplaces.

Recent case: Bernard retired from the military and began working as a registered nurse at a hospital. He eventually sued, alleging age discrimination and that he had experienced a hostile work environment based on his age.

As evidence, he noted he once had to miss a lunch break, was told he didn’t understand how the office printer worked—and had been laughed at for inadvertently answering the phone using his military rank. Significant, he said, was being forced to take retraining on basic nursing skills

The 3rd Circuit concluded that none of what Bernard described was an adverse employment action or created a hostile work environment. Such incidents were more properly classified as annoyances. It dismissed the lawsuit. (Canete v. Barnabas Health System, et al., 3rd Cir., 2018)

Final note: The hospital did everything right. It kept good records documenting why it subjected Bernard nurse to additional training, which helped demonstrate that the retraining wasn’t based on a presumption that older nurses don’t have good skills. Instead, the hospital showed that his skills needed updating based on observed behavior, not ageist presumptions about ability.