Post-Employment Acts Don't Create a Hostile Work Environment

Post-Employment Acts Don't Create a Hostile Work Environment

When Krysten Overly, a financial advisor at a bank, told her male boss that she was resigning, Overly claims that he grabbed Overly's arm to push her out the door. And as Overly left her boss's office, he yelled, "Good riddance, bitch!"

What a jerk! But, as a matter of law, did he contribute to a sexually harassing hostile work environment?

Well, Overly certainly thought so.

After her resignation, she sued her employer claiming that her boss's behavior, combined with some sporadic sexist comments he made before her resignation -- he called her "cutie" five to ten times -- amounted to sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment for her. 

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed [Overly v. Keybank Nat'l Ass'n, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 22651 (Nov. 10, 2011) an enhanced version of this opinion is available to subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law]. A hostile work environment requires, among other things, offensive behavior that is either severe or pervasive. The court determined that the few pre-resignation "cutie" comments spread over a few months were neither severe nor pervasive. And while the physical contact and post-resignation comments directed at Overly were completely inappropriate, the court said that they did not contribute to the hostile work environment:

By far the most disturbing evidence of gender bias comes after Overly had already resigned, but this cannot establish a hostile environment before her resignation. While it is unacceptable for a person to grab another in the workplace without permission, much less to refer to a woman as a "bitch," [the boss's] actions do not satisfy Overly's burden to prove she suffered objectively severe and pervasive gender discrimination while working for [the Bank]. The fact that [her boss] acted wrongly after Overly resigned does not serve as evidence of a hostile work environment while working at [the Bank].

For the foregoing reasons, the court found in favor of the Bank. Although, assuming the truth of the allegations, I'd be surprised if the boss still has his job.

This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer Handbook

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