My Current State: 

Delaware Hostile Work Environment

Posted by Tamara

In a recent EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) case approximately a dozen current and former female sales employees were awarded over $12 million. These women worked for a chain of new car dealerships, where the owner and managers referred to them as “dingbats” and made derisive comments when they failed to meet their sales quotas. The male sales employees were not subjected to this negative behavior.

Does this constitute sexual harassment in Delaware? No, because the behavior did not include unwelcome sexual advances. It does, however, constitute a hostile work environment for women. For that reason, the federal court awarded the women the money.

Some Delaware employers mistakenly assumed that sexual harassment and a hostile work environment meant the same thing. They don’t.

Sexual harassment occurs when an employee is the target of unwelcome attention due to his or her gender.

A hostile environment occurs when a Delaware employee is the target of unwelcome attention due to his or her sex, age (40 to 70), disability, religion, color, national ancestry or pregnancy. This behavior can come from supervisors, but most often is exhibited by co-workers.

For example, in another EEOC case, an Executive Chef at a Hilton Hotel repeatedly called the Hispanic employees “wetbacks”. This isn’t sexual harassment, but it does create a hostile work environment, because the employees were subjected to negative behavior because of their color, race or national ancestry.

An example of sexual harassment involves Grace, a teenager working at a fast-food restaurant. Her boss repeatedly pressures her to have sex with him. Grace refuses, but her boss continues his advances. His behavior constitutes sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment, however, isn’t restricted to supervisor/subordinate scenarios. Consider Heather, who continually asks Justin, her co-worker, for a date. Justin continually refuses. Because her repeated sexual advances are unwelcome, Heather is guilty of sexual harassment.

Who’s responsible to end this behavior? According to federal antidiscrimination laws, employers are responsible for providing employees with a discrimination-free work environment. If anyone in the workplace creates a hostile work environment for an employee, it is the employer’s responsibility to stop it.


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