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For sexual harassment to be actionable in the context of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-2(a)(1), it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment. Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment--an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive--is beyond Title VII's purview. Applied to the housing context, a claim is actionable when the offensive behavior unreasonably interferes with use and enjoyment of the premises. Whether an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances, and factors may include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.
Christina Brown accused Albert DiCenso of sexual harassment when he proposed an exchange of sexual favors for rent. Brown filed a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 3601 et seq., with respondent Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that DiCenso’s conduct did not rise to the level of severity required to create a hostile housing environment. The ALJ found that Brown failed to establish a claim of sex discrimination and dismissed the complaint. Respondent HUD, acting on Brown’s behalf, sought review of the ALJ's order. Respondent HUD's designee vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for a determination of damages. DiCenso sought review.
Was one incident of harassment sufficiently egregious to create a hostile environment sex discrimination cause of action under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.?
The court reversed the decision of respondent HUD's designee. Although DiCenso may have harassed Brown, he did so only once. There was no question that Brown found DiCenso’s remarks to be subjectively unpleasant, but this alone did not create an objectively hostile environment.