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When a male employee texted his female co-worker and former girlfriend that she was a “whore” and later ignored two protective orders that the female co-worker had taken out against him, I wonder if he was thinking, “Maybe, I’ll get fired and parlay that into a winning reverse-gender-discrimination claim.”

Indeed, the guy’s actions violated a number of work rules and, ultimately, resulted in his termination. But a winning reverse-gender-discrimination claim? Not so much according to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (opinion here):

lylepuzzle.jpgMaetta Vance, the only African-American working in her department at Ball State University, claimed that she was subjected to both race discrimination and retaliation. Vance later sued and lost because she could not establish employer liability, which, in turn, depended on whether the alleged harassment was perpetrated by supervisors or coworkers. 

Employers have an affirmative defense when the supervisor harassment does not result in a tangible employment action. If, however, the harassing supervisor fires, suspends, or takes some other similar action against the victim, it’s check mate. 

In instances of co-worker harassment, where tangible employment actions wouldn’t be at issue (because the harassing co-worker wouldn’t have that power), to prevail on a discrimination claim, the plaintiff must show, among other things, that the employer has “been negligent either in discovering or remedying the harassment.”


So captivating that, at 35 pages long, it held my attention for 24 of them. Winning! 

I’ll whet your whistle with the opening paragraph of EEOC v. The McPherson Cos., Inc.:

This Title VII case revolves around repeated churlish, childish, gross, sordid, vulgar, foul, disgusting, profane utterances in the workplace. The question in the case, however, is not how vile and obnoxious this workplace language was. It was vile and obnoxious enough to score nine on a scale of ten. This will become apparent as the story unfolds. The question for the court is rather whether this verbal mayhem morphed from a competition to see who could beat whom in the foul-mouth game into a cause of action under Title VII by an offended employee for same-sex sexual harassment.

After jump, I’ll keep my babbling to a minimum and, instead, highlight the matter-of-fact prose of Judge William M. Acker, Jr. from the Northern District of Alabama. And we’ll answer the question: Does the reach of Title VII preclude same-sex sexual harassment where offensive workplace language is not directed at a man because he’s a man?

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Cyber MondayHi there.

To the two of you who are reading this today, welcome. And hello to the rest of you who are three drumsticks to the wind, joining us on Monday between incognito searches in office of’s Cyber Monday Deals.

(I won’t tell…)

But check it. While you browse back and forth on the qt, I’ll fill you up after the jump with leftover sweet-potato casserole dozens of great posts from some of the best HR bloggers around. And since it’s the season of giving, I’ll even hook you up with some shopping deals too.

It’s the Carnival of HR: Cyber Monday Edition!

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David H. Petraeus 2004Yeah, I know, this post would have been timely if posted last week, when the Petraeus news actually surfaced.

Well it is — err, was —  timely. That is, my Dilworth Paxson colleague, Sehyung Lee, did post “Attennnnn-tion! 4 Important Lessons From the General Petraeus Scandal” over at the White Collar Defense Update Blog last week. I just didn’t get around to reading it until last Friday and, by then, it was too late to link to it from this blog, and…

You get the point right? (I’m too lazy to offer you any original content today).

Helene Tyrrell worked as a line chef at a jockey club in Arkansas during the Winter of 2010. She claimed that immediately after she started working, and pretty much throughout her employment, the n-word was bandied about like you and I would say “hello” and “goodbye.” However, only once was the “n”-word hurled in her direction.

But it wasn’t the n-word. No, that’s discriminatory.

Rather, according to the court in Tyrell v. Oaklawn Jockey Club, the “comment directed at Plaintiff and one other co-worker happened after the kitchen crew nearly mused getting breakfast out one Sunday. The comment, was according to Plaintiff, ‘I told you niggas we could get this done. I told you we could do this. Y’all my niggas.'”

Do you call HR when someone says something you don’t like? What about if they confess a secret? What if you over hear something that wasn’t meant for your ears? 

And what should HR do about it?

Last night, labor-and-employment-law attorney Daniel Schwartz, who blogs at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, and I joined The Huffington Post’s Nancy Redd on HuffPost Live answering these and other related HR/workplace questions. 

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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