Sex Harassment Law Not ‘Civility Code’

By Staff Report

May. 16, 2006

When Amaani Lyle interviewed for a job as writers’ assistant on the television show Friends, she was warned that she would be hearing and transcribing notes of the writers’ discussions and jokes about sexual matters. She accepted the job, but four months later was terminated because of problems doing the work.

    Lyle sued Warner Bros., NBC Studios and the show’s producers and writers for race and sex discrimination and harassment, retaliation and related claims. She claimed that the writers regularly discussed their personal sexual preferences and experiences, made sexual gestures and doodles and commented on the cast’s sexual activities.

    After the trial court dismissed all of Lyle’s claims, a California court of appeal held that Lyle should be permitted to proceed to trial because sexually coarse and vulgar language was not necessary for the creative process.

    On review, the California Supreme Court unanimously concluded that Lyle failed to demonstrate that the writers’ actions were severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. Rather, “most of the … language at issue did not involve and was not aimed at [Lyle] or other women in the workplace.” Additionally, the “workplace focused on generating scripts for an adult-oriented comedy show featuring sexual themes.” Lyle v. Warner Bros. Television Prods., Cal., No. S125171 (4/20/06).

    Impact: Employers should adopt and follow anti-harassment policies, conduct appropriate training of employees and carefully investigate every harassment and discrimination complaint.

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