Hostile Work Environment—Sex Discrimination

There are many types of sex discrimination. In some industries women still regularly struggle to be hired or promoted. Women who take time off work due to the addition of a child to their family may face diminished job responsibilities and benefits. And sexual harassment is still alive and well. But there is one type of sex discrimination that is often misunderstood: hostile work environment discrimination.

Protected Classes

The phrase “hostile work environment” actually comes from harassment law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes harassment a form of illegal employment discrimination. In order for harassment to be unlawful, it must be based on the harassed person’s membership in a protected class. At a minimum, protected classes include race, ethnicity, religion, sex, age for people age 40 or older, and disability. (Under some state laws and local ordinances, sexual orientation and/or transgender status are included, but those classifications are not covered under the Civil Rights Act.)

What else is required for harassment to be illegal?

If a person is a member of a protected class and is harassed due to that membership, then the harassment may be illegal under the Civil Rights Act under two circumstances:

  1. Harassment becomes unlawful if enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment;
  2. Harassment becomes unlawful if the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

That second prong, where a reasonable person would find a work environment to be intimidating, hostile, or abusive, is where hostile work environment law comes from. This means that petty slights or annoyances are not enough to make harassment unlawful. It also means that an isolated incident is not enough unless it is extremely serious. However, repeated offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, threats, ridicule, mockery, put-downs, or use of offensive pictures is illegal. The key is that to be illegal, these behaviors must be severe, recurring, and pervasive.

Who is Liable for a Hostile Work Environment?

You may think that only the person who harasses you can be held responsible, but that is not necessarily the case. Under some circumstances the company can be held responsible for the harassment. It will depend on who harassed you, what the outcome was, and what level of control the employer has over the harasser, amongst other factors.

Sex Discrimination Under Oregon Law

In addition to federal protections, state law also protects you from sex discrimination. Oregon Revised Statute 659A.030 makes sex discrimination in the workplace unlawful in Oregon. The statute does not specifically make a hostile workplace unlawful, but it does make any sort of adverse employment action based on gender unlawful. It also has protections in place that protect you against retaliation. If you made a federal claim that there is a hostile work environment, and as a result of your filing a claim your boss fires you or demotes you or gives you a negative performance review, you may also have a state claim.

Contact Us Today at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP

One of the keys to success in this type of case is swift action, because there are strict deadlines within which your case has to be filed. So if you have been a victim of a hostile work environment, you should contact one of the attorneys at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP as soon as possible by calling (503) 398-1130 or by filling out our simple online form.