Hostile Work Environment Under Title VII

March 04, 2019

The U.S. Court of Appeals has provided additional clarity about how "severe" and "pervasive" a supervisor's conduct must be to constitute a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. An African-American building engineer, testified to three offensive interactions with his direct supervisor within a two-year period: (a) a “joke” in which the supervisor called Employee the n-word; (b) an instance when the supervisor threatened to write up Employee's "black ass"; and (c) the supervisor’s comment referencing "you people" and again using the n-word. Employee asserted that these interactions constituted a hostile work environment, prohibited under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit held that a jury could find that the supervisory conduct alleged in Employee's testimony is sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment. As few as three allegedly offensive(and extreme) remarks made by a supervisor directly to a subordinate within a two-year period would suffice to establish a hostile environment claim. While zero tolerance of slurs always has been a best practice, employers should recognize that: (1) the margin for error is decreasing and the potential for exposure is increasing and (2) recurring training of supervisors to eliminate any such workplace language is critical.