Posted by Tamara
Up until a recent ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, for a hostile work environment to exist, a New Hampshire employee had to be the specific target of abusive behavior due to religion, race, sex, or any of the groups protected under federal law. A supervisor or manager who insulted everyone, who was an “equal opportunity harasser”, was not guilty of creating a hostile work environment.
The recent ruling of the federal 2nd Circuit Court could change that perspective in New Hampshire and across the nation.
In the case of Kaytor v. Electric Boat Corp., the court ruled that sex-specific insults and comments could create a hostile environment for a female employee even if the abuser is an “equal opportunity harasser”.
Daniel McCarthy, an employee of the Electric Boat Corp, made inappropriate and suggestive remarks about her body and her scent to his administrative assistant, Sharon Kaytor. When she rejected his advances, McCarthy repeatedly threatened to choke, kill or otherwise physically injure her. He also made these types of threats against other employees, both male and female.
One day when Kaytor left early for a gynecologist appointment, McCarthy made some vile remarks. In addition, he gave her a pussy willow plant and a sexually suggestive note on Administrative Assistants’ Day. Kaytor told him she’d reported him to HR, and McCarthy threatened to kill her.
When Kaytor did report the incident, the company illegally transferred her to another engineer, who not only treated her badly, but reported directly to McCarthy.
The lower court ruled McCarthy was an “equal opportunity harasser” and no jury would consider his actions toward Kaytor as based on her gender. In other words, McCarthy’s conduct was excused simply because his behavior was abusive to all employees, not just the females.
The appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court, however, overturned that ruling. They found that McCarthy’s sexual slurs were due to Kaytor’s gender.
It is unknown whether the case will continue onto the Supreme Court, and how those justices would rule, but New Hampshire employers would be wise to either retrain or terminate supervisors who are abusive.
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