After two posts (here and here), I felt like the “HR & Hip Hop” series had run its course. Peace out. Audi 5000. And then someone on LinkedIn challenged me, “Do something using the iconic Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’ and show if you can earn some real street cred yo.”
So, that got me thinking. Has a court ever examined whether the Grammy Award-winning 1992 Best Solo Rap Performance ever served as part of the foundation for a viable hostile work environment claim?
And, sure enough, it has.
To establish a claim for a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must show that her workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult to alter the conditions of employment by creating an abusive working environment. That is, the harassing conduct must be so offensive or pervasive as to create an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.
In determining whether an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive, courts examine the totality of the plaintiff’s circumstances, including (1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating, or a ‘mere offensive utterance’; (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with plaintiff’s work; and (5) what psychological harm, if any, resulted.
Suppose a male supervisor allegedly told a female subordinate, “Baby got back!”
That comment alone would hardly be severe enough to create a hostile work environment. And one comment is not pervasive. However, in Mills v. GRF Co., Inc., the plaintiff’s male supervisor allegedly did much more.
Among other things, he supposedly referred to himself as the “Ass Man.” Although, as far as the State of New York is concerned, Cosmo Kramer is the Ass Man. Allegedly, he also gave the plaintiff a Fugees CD, which the plaintiff considered to be “a little too familiar.” Then as a “Secret Santa” present, the supervisor supposedly gifted the plaintiff LL Cool J’s Phenomenon. Plus, the plaintiff claimed that “she was forced to listen to [her supervisor] recount his most recent sexual encounters in his apartment, which he openly described as the ‘love shack.'”
Now, could all of this contribute to a hostile work environment? Yes, according to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“Based on these allegations, a reasonable jury could conclude that the alleged sexually discriminatory acts by [the supervisor] were part of a series of “related acts” that were permitted to continue unremedied by GRF Co. Assuming these facts to be true, a reasonable jury could conclude that the acts in question were both objectively and subjectively sufficiently severe and pervasive to create a hostile work environment that began sometime in 1997 and continued through her entire employment with GRF Co.
(Oh, did I forget to mention that the supervisor allegedly called the plaintiff into his office to show her lewd pictures of women on the Internet. And there was also that postcard from the supervisor to the plaintiff with the three naked African girls covering their breasts with a message asking the plaintiff to get naked too?)
Tune in next week, as we explore whether Wolfgang Mozart would have violated the Fair Labor Standard Act by paying his butler in Baroque compositions and a fifth of Absinthe.