Workplace bullying is a pervasive problem, with one study finding that nearly three-fourths of surveyed employees had experienced bullying in their jobs. Legal protections are often only available to the extent that workplace bullying also constitutes discrimination or harassment on the basis of a protected category, which includes sexual harassment. New York City sexual harassment laws might then allow a cause of action. A story that appeared in news media earlier this year offers an example of alleged bullying—specifically, efforts to shame a coworker after she reported alleged sexual harassment by a supervisor—that might have supported a claim for sexual harassment. This particular case, however, appears to have been resolved without litigation.
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines the term to include verbal abuse, interference with a person’s work, and other acts aimed at “threatening, humiliating, or intimidating” someone. “Bullying” is not a legal term, but it might meet the legal definition of sexual harassment if it is primarily based on a person’s sex, and it creates a hostile work environment that interferes with that person’s ability to perform their work responsibilities.
While not using the actual word “bullying,” several landmark decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrate the close connection between bullying and sexual harassment. The court first recognized sexual harassment as an actionable form of sex discrimination in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). The court held that unlawful sexual harassment occurs when the harassing behavior is “severe or pervasive” enough “to alter the conditions of…employment and create an abusive working environment.” Id. at 67. Several years later, the court clarified that a plaintiff does not have to show that the hostile work environment was severe enough “to cause a tangible psychological injury.” Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). A plaintiff must show both that they “subjectively perceive the environment to be abusive” and that “a reasonable person would find [it] hostile or abusive.” Id.
The news story referenced above occurred at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. The complainant began working there when she was 16 years old. A 24-year-old manager allegedly pursued a relationship with the complainant. She has claimed that he would appear at her house unannounced and insist that she accompany him on dates. He also allegedly gave her multiple gifts, which she stated made her “extremely uncomfortable.” This continued for months, she claims, but eventually the manager allegedly began pursuing another female employee. At that point, the complainant states that she decided to report the matter to the company’s management.
The company reportedly responded by transferring the manager to a different location, but it did not fire him at that time. The complainant’s coworkers responded, according to multiple media sources, by throwing a party that they titled “[expletive] [complainant’s name],” with a cake displaying the same words. The complainant learned of this when someone posted a picture of the cake to the social media service Instagram. She resigned from her job soon afterwards. The company later claimed that the employees who attended the party “are no longer with the company.”
The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of workers in New York City in claims of sexual harassment and other unlawful workplace practices. You can contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.
More Blog Posts:
How Employment Laws in New York and Around the Country Deal with Sexual Assault as a Form of Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 27, 2017
Gathering Evidence to Prove Sexual Harassment in New York, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 6, 2017
Sexual Harassment and the Statute of Limitations: Why New York Employees Might Still Have a Claim Even if They Do Not Come Forward Right Away, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 2, 2017