Posts Tagged ‘Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’

In the recent case of Hall v. Chicago the Seven Circuit found that a female plumber, (sometimes referred to as “Hall” by the author of this blog and allegedly referred to as “that woman” by her supervisor), has a triable hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on incidents which viewed in isolation may seem relatively minor, but when viewed in their totality the court deemed sufficiently pervasive to make out a hostile work environment claim.

Hall or “that woman” was a female plumber for the City of Chicago and the only woman, aside from a secretary, in her division.  Hall claimed that that her male supervisor isolated her from coworkers, assigned her menial work, and subjected her to physically aggressive comments.  Specifically, she alleged that she was treated as the division pariah, undeserving of human interaction, that she was given menial tasks such as alphabetizing and sorting the same files and watching videotape footage that had already been reviewed.  The allegedly aggressive comments included her boss saying that he: “ought to slap that woman sitting out there,” “I could slap that woman and get a promotion” and “I ought to go postal on that woman.”

At the trial level, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the City of Chicago, but on appeal, the Seventh Circuit found that although Hall’s claims would not individually be considered severe or pervasive harassment under Title VII, a reasonable jury could view them together as creating a hostile work environment.  The appeals court also found that Hall established a triable factual dispute about whether her supervisor’s alleged harassment was based on her sex, but the court admitted this was a close call.

Interestingly, the court acknowledged that while Hall’s work may have been “unpleasant, boring, and unnecessary, that can be said of much work and there is no right to enjoyable work or to communicate with coworkers.  However, the court found that when forced to look at the totality of the circumstances, incidents which viewed in isolation as relatively minor, that consistently or systematically burden women throughout their employment are sufficiently pervasive to make out a hostile work environment claim.  The court found that in Hall’s case, her supervisor not only assigned her menial work, but he purportedly isolated her from co-workers, subjected her to verbal outburst, and physically bumped her on occasion.

As for Hall’s claim that the harassment was sex based, the court said it was a close call.  The court referenced the supervisor’s alleged comments and noted that rarely does one say that they are going to “slap a male” and to the extent that ambiguity remains, the supervisor attached “that woman” to the end of the sentence permitting a juror to conclude Hall’s gender was one factor leading to the outburst.  However, the court commented that not all sex-specific comments are evidenced of animus based on sex.  “Where a comment crosses the line from gender specific to evidencing gender animus is blurry and depends on factual context.”  Although the court viewed the supervisor’s use of “that woman” as indistinct from the use of “she,” and therefore not evidence of gender-based animus, the court felt that a jury could conclude that the comments evidenced gender animus.

The takeaway:  train supervisors to avoid phrases such as “that woman” which may have undertones of discrimination.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

 

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Several weeks ago, in the case of Covington v. Int’l Ass’n of Approved Basketball Officials, the Third Circuit held that a female high school basketball referee in New Jersey may pursue a Title VII sex discrimination claim against three defendants related to her alleged exclusion from officiating boys’ basketball games.

In short, the female referee sued seven defendants in federal court, including Hamilton Township School District, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), and Board 193 of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials, alleging that the defendants engaged in unlawful sex discrimination by excluding her from officiating boys’ high school varsity basketball games.   Although she had refereed for more than 10 years, the referee claimed that she had not been assigned to officiate boys’ regular season games because of Board 193’s policy of discriminating against female officials.  Although no defendant admitted to having a policy of excluding women from officiating boys’ games, the referee alleged a pattern and practice of sex discrimination

The U.S. District Court of the District of New Jersey dismissed the referee’s complaint on the ground that she had not adequately alleged facts sufficient to establish the employer-employee relationship necessary to hold any of the named defendants liable under Title VII.  The referee appealed this dismissal to the Third Circuit where the Third Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and chastised it for not giving more serious regard to a federal district court opinion in Pennsylvania that had upheld a sex discrimination jury verdict for a female basketball referee who had been excluded from officiating boys’ games under similar circumstances.  In other words, there was existing case law that the lower court should have paid closer attention to.

Interestingly, the defendants unsuccessfully argued that they were not covered by Title VII on the theory that they could not be considered employers.  The Third Circuit rejected this argument finding that the school district and the athletic association could be fairly identified as the referee’s employers under Title VII.  The court also found that the referee plausibly alleged that Board 193 could be liable as an “employment agency” for supplying high school basketball referees to the school district.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Posted in Labor & Employment, Sex discrimination | No Comments »

In the matter of Blake v. Purolite Corp. et al., the plaintiff filed a pregnancy discrimination case in the United State District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wherein she alleged that she was terminated because of her pregnancy in violation of her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.   After a four day trial, the jury found that the plaintiff’s pregnancy was a determinative factor in the defendant’s decision to terminate her employment and returned a verdict in her favor.  Specifically, the jury awarded the plaintiff compensatory damages in the amount of $25,000.00 and punitive damages in the amount of $125,000.  Additionally, the Court later issued a memorandum stating that the plaintiff was also entitled to $11,098.12 in back pay.

Pregnancy discrimination cases appear to be on the rise.  The attorneys at Harmon & Davies are here to assist employers with pregnancy discrimination charges.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Posted in Labor & Employment, Pregnancy Discrimination | No Comments »