• Court offers Employers a Stark Reminder on Hostile Work Environments
  • June 30, 2009 | Authors: Jeffrey S. Adler; Dean Falavolito
  • Law Firms: Burns White LLC - West Conshohocken Office; Burns White LLC - Pittsburgh Office
  • In Gallgher v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide (6th Cir. Court of Appeals, May 22, 2009) a female employee was subjected to “locker room” type behavior in her workplace. However, as this behavior was in the presence of both males and females and not directly at her specifically, the lower court originally held that the employee was not subject to this conduct based on her gender. Additionally, since the employee only reported to her immediate (lower-level) supervisor, who was also active in the behavior, the lower court held that the employee did not sufficiently make use of the employer’s harassment reporting guidelines.

    The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court on both counts. It held that the fact that women may have been present during the course of the offending behavior did not prevent the employer from being liable for this behavior. The court revisited Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and stated that all employers have a duty to prevent offensive and graphic behavior no matter what genders may be present and even if the behavior is directed at no one employee in particular. Additionally, the court held that the employee’s notification of her most immediate supervisor was sufficient to put the employer on notice of the harassment, even though such a supervisor would normally not be “authorized’ to receive and respond to harassment complaints. 
    This case provides employers with a reminder to be vigilant in monitoring work-place behavior. Even the most “innocent” comments can be seen as harassment. Even more critically, employers must properly train their “lower management” personnel to properly handle any observations or reports of harassment.