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Cat Rape and other Tales from the Seventh Circuit

catrape.jpgThe Seventh Circuit (my favorite circuit for sheer opinion goodness) delivered a scathing attack against what they termed “second-hand harassment” hostile work environment lawsuits, and I think they hit the nail on the head. The case itself concerns a part-time bus driver who brought a lawsuit complaining that her co-workers were creating a hostile work environment (PDF of the opinion):

She accused one of her coworkers of giving an assistant manager of the facility “red underwear made to look like an elephant’s head, with a sexually-suggestive trunk” at an office party, and accused another—the manager, no less—that among other enormities he had referred to a female bus driver (not the plaintiff) as a “fat ass,” had had an affair with another female driver, sold Avon products at work, told the plaintiff that his teenage daughter had watched him walk from the shower to his bedroom naked, and described an incident in which his male cat “raped” his female cat.

The court, I think rightly, makes a huge distinction between offensive conduct or words aimed directly at the litigant and general foul language or disgusting behavior merely delivered in the presence of the plaintiff. The court seems to feel that, for the latter “second-hand harassment” to rise to the level of a hostile working environment, it need be a lot more harsh than, for instance, overhearing a co-worker describe an incident about his male cat raping his female cat. Moreover, this woman’s manager wasn’t calling her a “fatass,” he was calling another woman by that name in her presence (which might give the other woman a cause of action, but it’s only tangentially related to the litigant here.)

At any rate, I think the Seventh Court closed with an appropriate conclusion, warning – perhaps – that hostile work environment claims are getting a little out of hand:

The American workplace would be a seething cauldron if workers could with impunity pepper their employer and eventually the EEOC and the courts with complaints of being offended by remarks and behaviors unrelated to the complainant except for his having overheard, or heard of, them. The pluralism of our society is mirrored in the workplace, creating endless occasions for offense. Civilized people refrain from words and conduct that offend the people around them, but not all workers are civilized all the time. Title VII is not a code of civility.

(Hat Tip to Bashman)

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Comments

No one should be subjected to CAT RAPE talk! That is simply too much.
She should get zillions.