SW Legal studies in Business

Pervasive Sex-Specific Language May Be Basis of Hostile Work Environment

Appeals court held that a claim of hostile work environment based on sexual harassment could proceed. While none of the actions or the language involved qualified as “severe” there was evidence that it was pervasive and affected the employee’s work performance.

Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words

Hostile Work Environment; Sex Harassment; Pervasive Criterion

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Reeves was the only woman who worked in an office. She claimed that during the three years she worked there, there was pervasive sexually explicit language as well as some sexually explicit material. There were persistent sexually offensive language, jokes, songs, comments and remarks. She complained of the language, but nothing changed. She resigned and sued for hostile work environment. The district court held for the employer on the grounds that the alleged harassment was not based on Reeve’s sex; it was just male behavior not directed at her. She appealed.


Reversed and remanded. The fact that no single incident of sex-specific offensive language used by men in the office qualified as “severe” does not preclude a finding that the language was pervasive enough to satisfy the “severe or pervasive” criterion of a Title VII hostile work environment sexual harassment claim. A reasonable woman exposed to daily offensive language would have been humiliated, and there is evidence that the conduct interfered with her work. Factors to be included in such a claim are: 1) frequency of the conduct; 2) severity of the conduct; 3) whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating, or mere offensive utterances; and 4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s job performance.

Citation Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 525 F.3d 1139 (11th Cir., 2008)

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