Extreme incident of discrimination can create hostile workplaces

Tennessee workers who face discrimination and harassment at work are likely aware of how much of an impact these incidents can have on workers' productivity, mental health and comfort in the workplace. While it can sometimes take a pattern of harassment or discrimination for a claim to potentially be successful in court, a federal appeals court ruled that, in extreme cases, an isolated discriminatory act could be enough to create a hostile work environment.

Two African-American men claimed that they were hired by a California-based staffing company as general laborers in 2010. During a fence-removal project, the two men said that a supervisor used a racially discriminatory word as they were working. They reportedly complained about the incident to a supervisor but were fired without explanation a couple of weeks later. The company rehired the men shortly after but then terminated them once again after claiming that there was no work for them to complete.

While the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, U.S. District Court initially dismissed the allegations filed by the two men, the charges were reinstated by a three-judge appeals court panel. As such, the ruling determined that a single instance of harassment or discrimination is enough to file a discrimination, harassment or retaliation claim. However, the ruling made it clear that the single discriminatory act must be extreme enough in that it creates a hostile work environment.

In Tennessee, workers have the right to work in a hostile-free environment. They also have the right to work in an environment that is free from harassment or discrimination. However, not all employers follow the law. If an employee reports an incident of workplace discrimination or harassment and is disciplined or terminated as a result, an attorney could file a lawsuit against the employer and represent the worker in court.

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