- Although a reasonable jury could conclude that a woman's supervisor mistreated her on the basis of her disability, the conduct was not "severe or pervasive enough" to create a hostile work environment, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Denning v. County of Washoe, No. 18-16880 (9th Cir. April 2, 2020)).
- Kathleen Denning's supervisor made two derogatory statements about her epilepsy over three years, told her co-workers that she was a "problem child" and "troublemaker," assigned her longer shifts and less desirable tasks and subjected her to "excessive scrutiny."
- These actions fell short of the "extreme" behavior required for a hostile work environment claim, the court said.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said in a guidance that the work environment must be "intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people" in order to be considered unlawful and that petty slights, annoyances and isolated work incidents, unless extremely serious, generally aren't enough to make a case for unlawful behavior. Offensive conduct can include slurs, offensive jokes, and interference with work performance, according to the EEOC.
In a similar case, the 4th Cir. ruled last year that a "handful of incidents" in the span of several years wasn't enough to prove an employee's claims of disparate treatment, hostile work environment, constructive discharge and retaliation.
Bullying can create a stressful workplace even if the workplace actions aren't severe or pervasive enough to create legal liability. Employers need to appropriately discipline those who engage in such behavior, investigate complaints and train its workforce, including managers and supervisors, to encourage a positive and respectful atmosphere, sources previously told HR Dive.