Housing Agency Didn't Create Hostile Work Environment
Facts: An Hispanic employee of the Housing and Community Service Agency of Lane County, Oregon, which provides housing and services for moderate- to low-income Oregon residents, was disturbed by her coworkers’ attitude toward minorities.
For example, she claimed, one coworker hung up on an Hispanic client. When that client came to the office, the coworker allegedly called the client “stupid” and “ignorant” and used profanities to describe her. On another occasion, coworkers allegedly mocked a Middle Eastern client, asking, “Does he have a towel on his head?”
The employee also believed that agency supervisors had a bias against minorities. She claimed that her supervisor said that an Hispanic applicant, who was ultimately hired, had too heavy an accent for the front desk. The agency's housing director allegedly uttered profanities to refer to the Cuban and African-American directors of other Lane County agencies.
Finally, the employee maintained, the racial bias was specifically directed toward her. According to the employee, her supervisor first spoke to her, and then forced her to email her, every day she arrived for work late during her daughter's illness. According to the employee, she was no later than Caucasian coworkers, and the supervisor didn't impose the emailing requirement on them. She claimed that her supervisor also targeted her by not providing her with her yearly reviews, which was in violation of agency policy. And she asserted that the agency managers accessed and read her emails without her knowledge.
The employee sued the agency for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state law because the agency created a hostile work environment.
Decision: The court ruled that the agency did not discriminate against the employee.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the employee didn't establish a pattern of ongoing and persistent harassment severe enough to alter the conditions of employment.
The court noted that over the course of three years, agency employees and managers did indeed make several disparaging remarks about minorities. The record, however, also shows that these remarks were sporadic, isolated incidents, the court concluded. Many of the comments were either directed toward a different minority group or directed specifically at individuals who happened to be minorities, the court ruled. Comments directed at specific minority individuals were mostly profanities, not racial slurs. Finally, the remarks are better described as “merely offensive,” as opposed to physically threatening or humiliating to the employee, the court stated.
While the employee's coworkers and managers made comments about minorities that were inappropriate and offensive, the court concluded, these isolated comments didn't amount to a hostile work environment. Therefore, the court dismissed the employee's case.
- Pena v. Housing and Community Service Agency of Lake County, Oregon, November 2010