Time & Attendance
By Jon Hyman
Jul. 23, 2014
Orton-Bell v. State of Ind. (7th Cir. 7/21/14) [pdf] concerns allegations of sexual harassment levied by a substance-abuse counsel at an Indiana maximum security prison against her co-workers and superiors. The allegations break down into two categories:
The notion that night-shift staff had sex on her desk because she was a woman is pure speculation.… If there were evidence that the night-shift staff were using her office because she was a woman, and her supervisors were indifferent, that would be enough. If there was evidence that night-shift staff similarly used a man’s office, and her supervisors intervened in that circumstance but not in her circumstance, that would be enough. There is neither. Her supervisors’ insensitive and inattentive responses were callous mismanagement; but absent evidence that this inaction was based on her sex, it did not violate Title VII.…
The conduct was certainly sexual intercourse on her desk, but that does not mean that night-shift staff had sexual intercourse on Orton-Bell’s desk because she was of the female sex. There is no evidence to indicate that, had her conveniently private and secure, but accessible, office belonged to a man, it would not have been used in the same manner. Accordingly, this incident, while egregious, does not support a hostile work environment claim.
The constant barrage of sexually charged comments, however, was clearly pervasive, offensive, and based on Orton-Bell’s sex.…
The record does reveal an instance where, in an email conversation with a co-worker named Bruce Helming, she participated in vulgar banter. However, while that may lead a jury to conclude that she was not subjectively offended by the environment, one private conversation via email is not enough for us to conclude, as a matter of law, that she was not subjectively offended by the many other public, unwelcome sexually charged comments in the environment.
What does this case teach us?
Let me leave you with this thought. If your workplace is sexually charged, it will catch up with you eventually. I cannot fathom the difficulties managing employee behavior in a maximum security prison. Nevertheless, Title VII does not stop at the door just because the workplace is inherently hostile.
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