Single slur might make a hostile work environment

Tennessee employees might be able to file a lawsuit based on a single extreme incident of a workplace slur based on an April 25 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The court ruled that in some circumstances, this could constitute creating a hostile work environment. An employee representing himself had filed a lawsuit against his employer in a federal district court that granted summary judgment to the employer. However, when the man appealed the decision, the appellate court held that the district court had not sufficiently reviewed the worker's claims.

The man had an amicus curiae brief from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that argued the slur could constitute a hostile work environment. Furthermore, the Second Circuit said that other actions taken toward the worker could be sexual harassment because they were based on his perceived sexual orientation and failure to conform to gender norms.

Another significant point was if there had been other acts of discrimination or harassment that were illegal because a person was part of a protected class, then additional acts that did not necessarily fall under the umbrella of harassment based on that protected class could also be considered. Therefore, an act such as the employer's accusations that the man stole a computer might be relevant.

People who are dealing with workplace discrimination might prefer to try to deal with the situation through internal means. However, they might still want to consult an attorney first so that they understand their rights including whether or not they are part of a protected class. An attorney might also be able to offer advice on how best to present their case, such as documenting incidents of harassment. If the workplace does not respond appropriately, a lawsuit is another option.

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