Do Your Problems at Work Constitute a Hostile Environment?

hostile environment at workLet us say you really hate your job, and it is mostly because of the people with whom you work.  A negative and hostile environment at work makes it miserable day after day. Does what you are experiencing rise to a level that might be worth seeking legal help?  The short answer is… maybe. 

Hostile Environment at Work

If the environment at work is leading to feelings of depression or anxiety, it is possible that your employer is not taking state and federal harassment laws seriously.  Particularly if the bullying behavior or abuse is a repetitive problem against a protected class, a lawsuit may be your best option going forward. In California, any unwanted behavior toward a person in a protected class that would be judged as offensive to a reasonable adult could legally be classified as a hostile work environment

Protected Classes

Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against any person based on the following:

  • Race, color, nationality;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Citizenship;
  • Genetics.

In California, the anti-discrimination laws are more extensive, and prohibit discrimination abased on the following:

  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender;
  • Military status;
  • Politics;
  • Marital status;
  • Having been a victim of assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

Is it Illegal?

The fact of the matter is plenty of nasty or annoying behavior is not necessarily illegal. In order to cross the legal standard, one of three things about the behavior must be true:

  • It is discriminatory;
  • It violates specific company policy;
  • It leads to safety issues in the workplace.

Additionally, in California issues are generally part of a series of actions that compile to create a hostile workplace environment.

Who Might be Guilty of Harassment?

Many people mistakenly believe that harassment might only occur at the hands of a supervisor or co-worker.  In actuality, clients, vendors, or customers might be guilty of harassment, and an employer has a responsibility to address issues involving even these groups.

What if the Harassment is Unintentional?

If there is one thing the #MeToo movement has brought to light, even comments or behaviors that were not intended to offend could be considered harassment, particularly if they continue after a request has been made to stop. Furthermore, a victim of harassment does not necessarily have to be the target of the comments or behavior. Anyone who is exposed to offensive, intimidating, or abusive conduct and who experiences offense or discomfort may have the right to pursue action against the offender. [Read more…]

Boeing Pays for Hostile Work Environment

hostile work environmentSix hostile work environment lawsuits at Boeing. Boeing considers itself to be a stellar employer, one that aspires to build values of respect and that is intolerant of harassment. A jury, however, found that the company fell short of that aspiration, and demonstrated just how serious the shortcomings were with a verdict awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars to a disparaged employee.

Details of the Boeing Hostile Work Environment Case

Roderick Marshall was a veteran employee at Boeing, having put in 18 years with the company. He tolerated jokes that were seething with racism without reporting them to supervisors. While management does not dispute this, they did not deal with the situation because, they say, Marshall failed to follow company protocol for reporting complaints.

Then one day, a white employee at Boeing twiddled with a string of rope, eyes on Marshall, Marshall could not have imagined what was to come next  The white man tossed the rope to Marshall, who caught it, only to see that it had been tied into a hangman’s noose. Offended, Marshall had had enough. A jury awarded Marshall $350,000 in damages. Their judgment listed several problems:

  • Boeing failed to prevent harassment;
  • Hiring practices were negligent;
  • Supervision of employees was lax;
  • Retention of problem employees was negligent.

This case highlights the responsibility of employers to police the work environment in order to ensure that employees are safe in all regards. Unfortunately for Boeing, their court days are not over. Five additional lawsuits are currently in the works, all related to discrimination and harassment.  

Defining a Hostile Work Environment

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cites particular requirements in defining a hostile work environment:

  • Demonstrations of discriminatory behavior directed toward a protected class (race, gender, age, sex, disability, or religion);
  • Repeated, not isolated events over time;
  • Actions severe enough that a reasonable person’s work would experience interference as a result of feelings of intimidation and/or abuse, or;
  • Actions that prevent an employee’s ability to advance;
  • A failure of management to respond to a known and/or reported situation, or;
  • An insufficient response to the problem.

Building a Healthy Workplace Environment

As an employee, there are a number of things you can do to help build an inclusive work environment. Some suggestions include:

  • Joining company activities and events designed to help employees network and grow relationships;
  • Participating in additional professional organizations;
  • Creating your own social groups with individuals from work, or who can help you with workplace issues.
Experiencing a Hostile Work Environment

In the event you are suffering from a hostile work environment, what should you do? Here are some tips:

  • Keep dated notes about specific issues;
  • File a complaint with human resources;
  • Consider getting counseling to deal with the emotional repercussions.

[Read more…]

Workplace Sexual Harassment Retaliation

workplace sexual harassmentWorkplace sexual harassment. When the vice-principal of one California middle school objected to her principal’s nickname for her (Double D), as well as his comments about the physique and desirability of colleagues, it did not go well for her. If you can relate to institutional sexism in your place of work, you may benefit from the advice of a local employment attorney.

A History of Workplace Sexual Harassment Problems

Principal Pinto had a reputation as a misogynist who overtly disrespected female teachers and staff on a regular basis. The evidence of this lies in the 15 workplace sexual harassment grievances filed against him within one school year. Included in the complaints were these abhorrent incidents:

  • He casually talked about female employees’ breasts;
  • He stated that when one employee was making fish, the odor must have been coming from his vice-principal’s genitals.

Nonetheless, after the complaints were documented with the district, no protections were offered to the complainants. Instead, they faced additional hostility. When Pinto’s vice-principal either excused herself from meetings or broke into tears in reaction to his insults, Pinto’s response was to tell her that she had a choice – either “deal with it or resign.” She chose to deal with it.

The Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed citing the following complaints:

  • Sexual harassment;
  • Hostile work environment;
  • Retaliation.

Specifically, the suit alleges that Pinto held sexist opinions and that he believed women should acquiesce to the will of men. Only teachers and staff who were willing to embrace this subservient stance were able to avoid the wrath of Pinto. Others, who were particularly successful or assertive were targeted relentlessly. When Pinto became aware of the complaints against him by his vice-principal, he responded by assigning her less desirable duties and relieving her of responsibilities to lead professional development classes and to evaluate teachers. Another teacher who had experienced problems with the principal and complained also suffered retaliation. After preparing throughout the summer for a California Cadet Corps course, she found the class cancelled by Pinto on orientation day. Eventually, both women were forced to quit altogether.

Now, the district may be liable for punitive damages, compensatory damages, lost wages, lost benefits, emotional distress, and medical expenses associated with the experience.

Defining Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. It may take the form of inappropriate verbal comments and jokes, leering or sexually suggestive gestures, pictures and cartoons, unwelcome physical contact, or the swapping of employment opportunities for sexual favors. When any of these behaviors are shunned or reported and the harasser becomes threatening or retaliates in any way, it is against the law. [Read more…]


The information on this website should not be considered to be legal advice, nor construed to be the formation of any manner of attorney client relationship. Prior to taking any form of legal action, please consult with an attorney experienced in the appropriate area of law germane to your situation. Case results and testimonials presented on or any of its related websites are germane to the facts present for each individual case and is not a promise of similar outcomes for any other cases. This website is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of California.