Tag Archives: Slider

Was the boss “merely crude”, or was he sexually harassing her?

Sex­u­al harass­ment claims fre­quent­ly require judges and juries to dis­tin­guish between “mere­ly crude” behav­ior, which doesn’t vio­late the employee’s rights, and “sex­u­al harass­ment”, which does. The Fourth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals addressed that issue in EEOC v. Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic, PA, 609 F.3d 320 (4th Cir. 2010) (opin­ion at Fourth Circuit’s site), and didn’t have a lot of trou­ble con­clud­ing that the con­duct in issue could rea­son­ably be viewed by a jury as sex­u­al harass­ment, rul­ing in favor of the employ­ee. One of the key issues was whether the con­duct was “severe or per­va­sive” enough to con­sti­tute a “hos­tile work envi­ron­ment”.  The unan­i­mous opin­ion was writ­ten Judge J. Harvie Wilkin­son III, joined by Judges Andre M. Davis and C. Arlen Beam (from the Eighth Cir­cuit).

Doc­tor on Doc­tor Harass­ment at Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic

Stethoscope Dr. John Kessel was the own­er of Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic in South Car­oli­na, and was accused by a for­mer female doc­tor at the clin­ic, Dr. Deb­o­rah Waechter, of sex­u­al­ly harass­ing her. Dr. Kessel was Dr. Waechter’s super­vi­sor. Dr. Waechter worked for him for 3 years and quit, alleged­ly over a broad range of sex­u­al­ly explic­it state­ments made dur­ing most of those 3 years (I’ll dis­cuss the specifics below).

Dr. Waechter’s Law­suit

Dr. Waechter then filed a charge of dis­crim­i­na­tion with the EEOC, alleg­ing that Dr. Kessel’s behav­ior cre­at­ed a “hos­tile work envi­ron­ment”, and the EEOC then filed suit on behalf of Dr. Waechter against Dr. Kessel’s clin­ic under Title VII of the Civ­il Rights Act of 1964.

After dis­cov­ery was con­duct­ed. Fair­brook Med­ical Clin­ic filed a motion for sum­ma­ry judg­ment, and the fed­er­al tri­al judge grant­ed it. The tri­al judge rea­soned that the offen­sive con­duct was “not par­tic­u­lar­ly fre­quent,” most­ly involved “the type of crude jokes that do not run afoul of Title VII,” did not cause Dr. Waechter to miss work or feel “severe psy­cho­log­i­cal stress,” and did not include inap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing or phys­i­cal threats.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Was the boss “mere­ly crude”, or was he sex­u­al­ly harass­ing her?

Analysis: The “No Blood No Foul” Rule. When is an Employer’s Conduct Severe Enough to Constitute Retaliation?

I pre­vi­ous­ly wrote about the Supreme Court’s retal­i­a­tion deci­sion in Burling­ton North­ern & Sante Fe Rail­way Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) (“Burling­ton North­ern v. White”), in which the US Supreme Court sub­stan­tial­ly broad­ened the abil­i­ty of employ­ees to file retal­i­a­tion claims under Title VII of the Civ­il Rights Act of 1964. It was a unan­i­mous (9–0) deci­sion.

National Basketball Association I want­ed to set out some addi­tion­al thoughts about Burling­ton North­ern, because it address­es an issue that has trou­bled the courts in inter­pret­ing the fed­er­al anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws: When is an employer’s con­duct seri­ous enough in dis­ad­van­tag­ing an employ­ee so that the employ­ee has a claim under the employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion laws? The answer is easy when the employer’s deci­sion affects the employee’s pock­et book, like with ter­mi­na­tion, fail­ure to hire, demo­tions, and the like. The answer has been much hard­er when the employer’s con­duct didn’t direct­ly affect the employee’s pock­et book.

NBA ref­er­ees strug­gle with a sim­i­lar issue: where is there enough phys­i­cal con­tact on the court to jus­ti­fy call­ing a foul on a play­er. So let’s explore some par­al­lels between these employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion issues and the NBA’s “no blood no foul” rule.

The NBA’s “No Blood No Foul” Rule

If you watch Nation­al Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion games, you might be struck by how much phys­i­cal con­tact there is on the court and how rarely the ref­er­ees call per­son­al fouls over that phys­i­cal con­tact. Fans of the NBA have only a par­tial­ly kid­ding way to refer to the “stan­dard” by which the ref­er­ees decide how much con­tact will result in a per­son­al foul being called. It’s the “no blood no foul” rule. In oth­er words, the ref­er­ees will allow a lot of phys­i­cal con­tact, and will only call a foul when some­one gets blood­ied as a result of the con­tact.

Let’s assume, with our tongues in our cheeks, that there is such a rule (no blood no foul) that NBA ref­er­ees apply, regard­less of what is writ­ten in the Offi­cial Rules. The idea behind the “no blood no foul” rule is this: there is so much fast-paced hur­ley-burly con­tact on the bas­ket­ball court, much of which makes it more excit­ing for the fans, that call­ing a foul for any phys­i­cal con­tact (or a low­er defined lev­el of phys­i­cal con­tact) would slow down the game for fans and make the game less enjoy­able, unrea­son­ably impede the skill of the play­ers, and makes it impos­si­bly hard for offi­cials to iden­ti­fy “con­tact”. So the appear­ance of blood is a more “objec­tive” indi­ca­tion that the con­tact real­ly mat­tered and real­ly con­sti­tut­ed an unfair inter­fer­ence with the oth­er play­er.

The Supreme Court Strug­gles With “When is There a Foul”?

Courts for years have strug­gled with the employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion equiv­a­lent of the “no blood no foul” rule. For the courts, assum­ing unlaw­ful dis­crim­i­na­tion occurred: when is the con­se­quence of the dis­crim­i­na­tion seri­ous enough and objec­tive­ly dis­cernible so that courts will rec­og­nize a claim and inter­vene by acti­vat­ing the court’s process and poten­tial­ly award­ing dam­ages.

Except for sit­u­a­tions involv­ing hos­tile work envi­ron­ment, the courts have trans­lat­ed the NBA’s blood require­ment into a tan­gi­ble eco­nom­ic con­se­quence. Thus, much in the spir­it of the NBA, the courts have said eco­nom­ic harm must be demon­stra­ble as a result of dis­crim­i­na­tion, or else the courts won’t enter­tain the claim no eco­nom­ic con­se­quence, no legal vio­la­tion, case dis­missed.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Analy­sis: The “No Blood No Foul” Rule. When is an Employer’s Con­duct Severe Enough to Con­sti­tute Retal­i­a­tion?