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
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 lexis.com
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
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