A former firefighter has received $50,000 to settle her sexual harassment lawsuit against a New Jersey fire department. The plaintiff, Courtney Jackson, worked as a volunteer at the station for over a year. During her time there, she was regularly subjected to inappropriate language from the department’s then-Assistant Chief. He allegedly made lewd comments about her body and used profanity-laden language to refer to her. In retaliation for complaining to high-ranking officials within the department about the harassment, she was terminated. Jackson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the fire department, and recently agreed to settle for $50,000.
Can vulgar language alone be the basis of a sexual harassment lawsuit?
Two types of sexual harassment are recognized by the court: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when adverse employment actions are taken against employees who do not comply with sexual demands. Vulgar language alone cannot be considered quid pro quo harassment.
However, if inappropriate language is severe and pervasive enough, it can create a hostile work environment. This type of harassment occurs when inappropriate conduct in the workplace creates an oppressive and upsetting atmosphere that interferes with an employee’s ability to perform his or her job. There are several conditions that need to be satisfied for a workplace to be considered a hostile work environment due to vulgar language:
• The employee who files the complaint must be a member of a group that is protected by city, state, or federal employment law
• The comments must be related to the employee’s membership in the protected class
• The employee must be negatively affected by the comments
• The use of offensive language must be severe and pervasive enough that it affects the employee’s ability to continue working
Isolated comments are usually not sufficient grounds for a hostile work environment claim. In order to be considered “severe and pervasive,” inappropriate language must be used frequently enough to create a hostile and upsetting atmosphere in the workplace.
Does offensive language need to be directed at you in order to be considered sexual harassment?
In the lawsuit discussed above, the Assistant Chief’s vulgar language was allegedly specifically directed at the plaintiff. However, language does not always need to be directly addressed to an individual in order to be considered sexual harassment. An employee who is not the object of harassment can still sue if inappropriate comments and behavior in the workplace contribute to a degrading atmosphere. For example, if a supervisor regularly uses profane language to refer to women, a female employee may be able to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.
The lawyers at Akin Law Group are committed to fighting sexual harassment in the workplace
Regardless of the form it takes, sexual harassment is illegal. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, contact Akin Law Group PLLC at 866.685.5163 to schedule a free consultation with an employment lawyer.