File the “blue collar workplace” defense to a hostile work environment in the trash can

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When defending against a woman’s sexual harassment claim, I’ve found that “she was asking for it” is generally a bad defense. So bad, in fact, that you may just want to whip out the old checkbook instead.

Another crappy one, apparently, is trying to convince a judge that an industrial workplace setting is carte blanche to knuckle drag and generally act like pigs.

Also known as the “blue collar” defense.

Consider this recent opinion from out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in which Judge Gene Pratter has some choice words for an employer that argued that its “blue collar” workplace suggests that most women would not be offended by, among other things:

  • a male co-worker’s creepy staring,
  • porno magazines,
  • a box of toy or candy breasts,
  • a suggestive picture of Miley Cyrus, with the word “PIG” written across her body, and
  • a flip sign displayed on a refrigerator at SPS included cards that read “I am not a bitch. I’ve just been in a very, very bad mood . . . for the past 30 years” and “my sexual preference is . . . often”

Cue Judge Pratter:

At least twice in its briefing, SPS engages in stereotyping and notes that the machine shop where Ms. Vollmar works is a “blue collar” workplace, as though that dismissive description should serve as a panacea “pass” for sexist or offensive conduct in the workplace. SPS further attempts to justify the events and conduct at issue by implying that Ms. Vollmar was a willing participant because she attempted to hold her own by relying on the vernacular of the environment and stating that she was fully capable of telling her coworkers to “get away from her when it suits her.”…Ms. Vollmar was one of only a few female employees subject to questionable comments, behavior, and materials in a male-dominated workplace. That a particular workplace is considered “blue collar”—whatever that is supposed to mean—does not absolve an employer of fostering a workplace hostile for female employees.

In other words, err, gif

While the blue collar defense my apply in environments where foul language or joking among coworkers is commonplace, it shouldn’t be your go-to in the courtroom. And employers shouldn’t condone such behavior as “boys will be boys.”

Image Credit: By Howard R. HollemThis image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID fsac.1a34951.

 

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  • MarySchaefer

    All the feels.

    I worked at a chemical plant for 14 years. I led the team to deliver sexual harassment prevention training to more than 700 employees. I heard many versions of, “We can’t have fun any more.” I would tell my irritated and sometimes angry participants that they were smarter than that, and could find many other ways to have fun. When I told them they were smart, which they were, most let it go. FWIW.

  • Kudos to Judge Pratter. Now can we get the NLRB on the same page?