Title VII of the Civil Rights Act attempts to redress workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. As an employer, it is important to understand the necessary action that must be taken to promptly correct sexual harassment claims in the workplace. One way employers can protect themselves is by providing employees with copies of their sexual harassment policies. In the event an employee is subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, they should have a guide which properly instructs them on how to approach the matter. Peter Mavrick is a Miami employment lawyer who has extensive experience dealing with Title VII sexual harassment claims and how employers can adequately ensure they have proper sexual harassment policies and protocols in place. This article will give you better insight as to how a Title VII hostile environment sexual harassment claim is analyzed by the courts.
A hostile work environment sexual harassment claim is actionable under Title VII given certain criteria is met. To be actionable under Title VII, a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so. Courts must determine whether an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive by looking at all the circumstances, including frequency of discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating or a mere offensive utterance, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a)(1).
The federal court for the Southern District of Florida in Masson v. Sch. Bd. of Dade County, Fla., 36 F. Supp. 2d 1354, 1357 (S.D. Fla. 1999), analyzed an employee’s claim alleging a hostile work environment of sexual harassment under Title VII. The Court noted that the burden of proof to establish a prima facie hostile work environment claim is on the employee. To establish a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment, the employee must show the following: (1) they belonged to a protected group; (2) they were subjected to unwelcomed sexual harassment; (3) the harassment complained of was based upon sex; (4) the harassment complained of affected a term, condition or privilege of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action.
In Masson, the employee had alleged sexual harassment by her male supervisor, who also happened to be the school principal. On numerous occasions the principal had made explicit sexual remarks to the employee and one time even grabbed her by the arm and kissed her on the cheek. Importantly, these allegations made by the employee were undisputed by the School Board. To determine whether an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive, the Court must look at all the circumstances, including the frequency of the conduct, its severity, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or is mere offensive utterance.
The School Board dismissed the employee’s allegations as nonactionable and instead deemed the principal’s conduct to be mere offensive speech. However, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-2(a)(1), mere offensive utterances may still constitute a hostile work environment. There is no question that the employee subjectively felt the comments were sexually objectionable and the Court believed a reasonable person would see them that way. Accordingly, the Court found that the employee had established a prima facie case of hostile work environment sexual harassment. Despite the employee meeting her burden of establishing a prima facie case, the Court ultimately ruled in favor of the School Board and granted summary judgment, because the School Board had satisfied its burden under the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense. The Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense provides employers a safe harbor from vicarious liability resulting from sexual harassment claims against a supervisory employee.
Although sexual harassment in the workplace has become more prevalent in our society, how an employer redresses sexual harassment can make the difference between winning or losing a lawsuit. Peter Mavrick is a Miami employment attorney who has extensive experience dealing with Title VII sexual harassment claims and providing employers with better insight on how to rectify sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Miami labor and employment litigation attorneys at the Mavrick Law Firm have successfully represented many businesses in hostile work environment cases in the Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County areas encompassed by the Third and Fourth District Courts of Appeal, as well as Hillsborough, Sarasota, and other counties encompassed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation. Peter T. Mavrick can be reached at: Website: www.mavricklaw.com; Telephone: 954-564-2246; Address: 1620 West Oakland Park Boulevard, Suite 300, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311.