As a California woman, you probably feel at times that the place where you work is a hostile work environment. Maybe the jokes your male co-workers tell get more than a little raunchy. Maybe one or more of the men have made inappropriate comments or even gestures to you. Whatever work situation you face, you need to know whether or not it actually rises to the level of a hostile work environment.
You probably already know that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans harassment in the workplace based on gender, race, religion and national origin. However, not all inappropriate and/or distasteful workplace behavior constitutes a hostile work environment.
Words versus actions
Offensive words in and of themselves usually are not sufficient to create a hostile work environment. Generally an offensive act must accompany the words. In addition, you must prove that any reasonable person, not just you, would likewise consider the words offensive and therefore your workplace environment a hostile one.
On the other hand, if you prove that the words were so vulgar, lewd or otherwise egregious that they put you in a state of extreme embarrassment and/or humiliation, a judge and/or jury could find that your male co-worker(s) who said them committed a verbal assault upon you. This assault is a sufficient act to prove your case.
Hostile work environment factors
As more and more women come forward regarding the sexual harassment they experience at work and more and more women file hostile work environment lawsuits, courts look at several factors, including the following:
- The severity of the harassment
- The length of time over which it occurred
- Whether the offensive words and/or acts constituted a physical threat
- Whether they impeded the female employee’s performance at work
If you are unsure whether or not your workplace actually is a hostile one, you should talk with an experienced, knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney. (S)he can assess your situation, answer your questions and help you decide whether or not to file suit against your employer.