SW Legal studies in Business

Vulgar Sexual Horseplay, Absent Desire or Hostility, Is Not Sexual Harassment
Description Appeals court reversed a jury finding for a male employee who sued for sexual harassment after having been grabbed in the genitals by a supervisor. Evidence indicated that this practice, while vulgar, was common at the workplace, and indicated neither sexual desire or hostility, so there was no violation of Title VII on the part of the employer for failing to stop the practice.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words Sexual Harassment; Hostile Work Environment; Same-Sex Harassment; Gender Discrimination
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Carlton contended that his employer allowed him to be subjected to offensive touching by his supervisor, Davis, and failed to take corrective action, thereby creating a hostile work environment. He testified that Davis came up behind him several times and grabbed his genitals. He complained to a higher-level supervisor, who reported the matter to human resources, which told him to have Carlton work for a different supervisor. A company review resulted in most people calling the matter "horseplay." Warnings were given, but nothing else. Carlton was still subject to "stalking" by Davis. Other workers laughed about the matter, calling him Davis' "girlfriend." Workers openly taunted Carlton for reporting the matter rather than taking on Davis like a "real man." After more than a month of ostracism, Davis quit and sued. An EEOC investigation showed that grabbing the buttocks or genitals was common at the construction company. A jury awarded him $1 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. Harbert appealed.

Reversed. Title VII is not a generic anti-harassment statute. Not every hostile work environment will support a Title VII claim. If a work environment is sexually hostile without an element of gender discrimination, it is not actionable. Failure of the company to do more than it did in this instance did not create a gender discrimination claim. Davis engaged in gross, vulgar, male horseplay, but it was not established that his conduct was discrimination because of sex, which would constitute same-sex harassment. There was no evidence that Davis was motivated by sexual desire or that he was expressing a hostility to the presence of men in the workplace.

Citation EEOC v. Harbert-Yeargin, Inc., 2001 WL 1104682 (6th Cit., 2001)

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