- Champion Chevrolet Dealership in Reno, Nevada denied opportunities to a female salesperson and subjected her to a hostile work environment that caused her to quit her job after only six months — a violation of federal law, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a sex discrimination lawsuit.
- The automotive saleswoman was denied access to online training, sales opportunities and payroll advances routinely available to salesmen, the EEOC has alleged. In addition, the agency says her male co-workers refused to help her and that her deals were "overly scrutinized and rejected without justification." The agency also alleges that she was subjected to near-daily "offensive comments about her sex, appearance and weight" and negative comments about women working in car sales. The Commission says the comments were reported to management by the saleswoman and a manager but the company took no action.
- The federal agency is seeking monetary damages on the woman's behalf, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices and other injunctive relief.
The denial of a training request isn't always considered discriminatory. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held last year that not granting a worker's request to take a software training course wasn't an adverse employment action because denial of an opportunity to "become marginally more efficient in the execution of duties does not constitute an adverse employment action, particularly when no evidence in the record suggested that any conditions or privileges of [the employee's] employment were affected as a result."
However, the EEOC has noted in a guidance on retaliation that a denial of training was held to be an adverse action when an employee was excluded from a weekly training lunch that contributed to professional advancement. Transfers, schedule changes and other similar actions have also been found to amount to adverse actions.
Petty slights, annoyances and isolated incidents generally will not rise to the level of a hostile work environment. According to EEOC guidance, the conduct must create a work environment that is "intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people." In a recent case, a Tennessee federal district court judge ruled that a former HR pro's complaints of being excluded from lunches and not greeted in the morning by a company executive weren't enough to support her claims of sex discrimination and retaliation.
HR can adopt several strategies to prevent and address hostile workplace claims. Experts generally suggest that HR provide anti-harassment training for employees and managers, institute robust reporting mechanisms and obtain visible buy-in from senior leadership to correct culture failings. And when it comes to preventing lawsuits, conducting good-faith investigations and creating thorough documentation is crucial.