What Is The Definition Of A Hostile Work Environment?

Hostile Work Environment Explained

A hostile work environment is harassing conduct because of a protected status (such as gender, race, religion, etc.) that creates a hostile. offensive, oppressive, or intimidating work environment that sufficiently offends, humiliates, distresses, or intrudes upon its victim, so as to disrupt the victim’s emotional tranquility in the workplace, affect the victim’s ability to perform the job as usual, or otherwise interfere with and undermine the victim’s personal sense of well-being. Former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her concurrence in Harris v. Forklift Systems (1993) 510 U.S. 17, wrote that “the plaintiff need not prove that his or her tangible productivity has declined as a result of the harassment. It suffices to prove that a reasonable person subjected to the discriminatory conduct would find, as the plaintiff did, that the harassment so altered working conditions as to make it more difficult to do the job.” (Id. at 26). The California Legislature recently affirmed that California follows Justice Ginsburg’s standard for sexual harassment. 

Examples Of Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

To state a claim for hostile work environment, the victim must prove that the harassing conduct was either severe or pervasive. Examples of severe or pervasive conduct include:

  • Rape. Ferris v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 277 F3d 128, 135 (2nd Cir. 2001).
  • Hugs and kisses on the cheek. Zetwick v. County of Yolo, 850 F3d 436, 444-445 (9th Cir. 2017).
  • Forcible French kiss, attempting to unfasten employee’s bra, and a vulgar remark in the same week. Hostetler v. Quality Dining, Inc., 218 F3d 798, 806 (7th Cir. 2000).
  • Physical groping. Myers v. Trendwest Resorts, Inc.,148 Cal. App. 4th 1403, 1421 (2007).
  • Assault or threat of assault. Hughes v. Pair, 46 Cal. 4th 1035, 1049 (2009).
  • Repeated sexual remarks by supervisor about employee over a two-year period, including calling her “gorgeous” and “beautiful” rather than by her name, telling her about his sexual fantasies and his desire to have sex with her, commenting on her “ass,” and asking over a loudspeaker whether she needed help changing her clothes. Draper v. Coeur Rochester, Inc., 147 F3d 1104, 1105-1107 (9th Cir. 1998).
  • Daily use of the words “bitch,” “slut,” and other crude language. Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 594 F3d 798, 803 (11th Cir. 2010).
  • Co-worker’s frequent viewing of sexual images and videos. Patane v. Clark, 508 F3d 106, 114 (2nd Cir. 2007).

In the video below, Ortiz Law Office founder Brandon Ortiz, an employment lawyer, explains hostile work environment law in more detail. 

Are You A Victim Of Workplace Discrimination, Retaliation, Or Harassment? Contact Ortiz Law Office For A Free Consultation To Learn Your Rights