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Just 1 incident is sufficient for a harassment claim

Category: Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment

According to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on May 7, only one instance of harassment is sufficient for pursuing a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. California residents might not realize that the significance of this is that the ruling is contrary to decisions that the court has made over the last 10 years.

The ruling was made on a case in which a former female employee of Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel in Maryland filed a racial harassment and retaliation claim against Fontainebleau Corporation and the hotel owner. The woman, a cocktail waitress at the time, maintained that the Caucasian restaurant manager called her a “porch monkey” twice and threatened that she would lose her job within a 24-hour period in September 2010. Soon after reporting the racial harassment to higher management, the owner of the hotel fired her.

After hearing her case in 2014, the district court ruled in favor of Fontainebleau Corporation and the hotel owner. With the grant of rehearing en banc, the appellate court found that the decision conflicted with precedent that the Supreme Court has set to the extent that the lower court required more than one incidence of harassment to support the claim of a hostile work environment. It determined that even just one serious allegation of racial harassment, as in this case, satisfied the requirement that the action be sufficiently pervasive and severe. The court also concluded that a worker who is fired after bringing an incidence of harassment to light is entitled to claim retaliation if the action was humiliating or physically threatening.

Although this case only involved racial harassment, the ruling is not bound to only that type of behavior but encompasses all types, including sexual harassment. This means that employees who suffer from just one serious incidence of sexual harassment may be entitled to file claims, at least in those states covered by the 4th Circuit.

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