My Current State: 

Mississippi Sex Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment

Posted by Tamara

A recent case has interesting implications for workers in Mississippi. In 2004, David McCarthy, an employee at Electric Boat Corp. was going through a divorce and began verbally abusing all of his employees, regardless of sex, color or race. Because he did not target a specific protected group, he was not considered guilty of creating a hostile work environment.

To constitute a hostile work environment, an employee must be the target of abusive behavior based on religion, sex, color, etc. A classic example is the female firefighter who received photos of naked women in her inbox every day for six months. She was subjected to this behavior simply because she was female.

Under this definition, McCarthy would be considered a crass, rude manager, but not guilty of discrimination.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled McCarthy had indeed created a hostile work environment for his administrative assistant, Sharon Kaytor.

McCarthy verbally abused male and female employees, and in addition made inappropriate and suggestive remarks to Ms. Kaytor about her body and scent. When she refused his advances, McCarthy threatened to choke or kill her. In addition, he gave Kaytor a pussy willow plant and a sexually suggestive note on Administrative Assistants’ Day. Ms. Kaytor said she was going to report the incident to Human Resources, and McCarthy once again threatened to kill her.

Unfortunately for Ms. Kaytor, when she filed the report the company did not reprimand McCarthy, but instead illegally transferred her to another engineer–who treated her badly and reported directly to McCarthy.

The case went to court, and the lower court found McCarthy innocent of creating a hostile work environment, because he was an “equal opportunity abuser”. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. They ruled that McCarthy’s remarks were based on Kaytor’s gender, and elevated the situation to a hostile work environment. The court also highlighted a previous case which found that it would be a great injustice to allow a harasser to get away with sex discrimination by occasionally harassing a male employee.

Employers in Mississippi should be aware of this ruling and weed out or retrain this type of supervisor.



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