Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 12:30PM
Can being called a "bitch" in the workplace be classified as sexual harassment? Paul Mollica, employment lawyer for Outten and Golden, LLP, brings up a case filed against Cook County by a female employee as he talks with The Employment Law Channel.
A woman working for Cook County's Sherrif's Department was promoted to Deputy Director of the Day Reporting Center and for 3 years she, along with other female employees, was harangued by her new supervisor. Repeatedly being called a "bitch" prompted her to complain and report it. She was then accused of a work-rule violation that she had been involved in sexual conduct with one of the inmates and she was then suspended.
Paul Mollica says this employee then filed a lawsuit against the county for both the harassment and the violation and she won her trial. The jury found that she was sexually harrassed by her supervisor and she was awarded a substantial verdict against the county for violation of Federal Law Title 7, which protects employees against discrimination based on sex.
Mollica continues on to say that the judge, after the jury returned its verdict, entered what's known as a judgement as a matter of law, which is a finding by a judge that a plaintiff failed to make her case and disregarded the jury verdict. The judge then made a judgement awarding the county. However, the 7th Circuit reversed the judge's decision and said the jury was correct and re-instated at least part of the judgement.
Mollica says that some judges have held over time that the word "bitch" has become so watered down that they are not sexually discriminatory. What the court said in this case was "we really need to view the word in the context in which it was intended," Mollica says and "is the person in this case being singled out because she's a woman?"
In this case, other evidence gave the use of the word more meaning, such as the word was used only with women and the specific false accusation that she had been involved with a male inmate. It gave the word even more context that it was used to discriminate because of sex, Mollica notes.
Paul Mollica is counsel for Outten and Golden LLP, a law firm focusing on employment law. For more information on Paul Mollica, click here. Paul’s commentary was hosted by The Employment Law Channel, part of The Legal Broadcast Network.