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To determine if an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the court looks at all the circumstances, including (1) the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; (2) its severity; (3) whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance. The required level of severity or seriousness varies inversely with the pervasiveness or frequency of the conduct. Simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents, unless extremely serious, will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment. The objective severity of harassment should be judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position, considering all the circumstances. The court analyzes objective hostility in such a case from the perspective of a reasonable man.
Antonio Sanchez brought this action against his former employer, Azteca Restaurant Enterprises, Inc., alleging, among other claims, sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and its state law counterpart, the Washington Law Against Discrimination ("WLAD"). Sanchez claimed that he was verbally harassed by some male co-workers and a supervisor because he was effeminate and did not meet their views of a male stereotype. Sanchez further asserted that he was terminated in retaliation for opposing the harassment. Following a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of Azteca on all claims. On appeal, Sanchez challenged the district court's factual findings and legal conclusions regarding the existence of a hostile work environment; Azteca's liability for the alleged harassment; and the alleged retaliatory discharge. He also appealed two evidentiary rulings.
Did the conduct of Sanchez's co-workers and supervisor create a hostile environment, therefore violating Title VII?
The appellate court held that a reasonable man would have found the sustained campaign of taunts designed to humiliate and anger was sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment. Sanchez complained about his harassment, showing the conduct was unwelcome and his workplace was perceived as hostile. Discrimination based on a stereotype that a man should have a virile rather than an effeminate appearance was barred under Title VII. After the complaint, a human resources director told him to tell a manager if the offensive conduct recurred; he conducted a few spot checks after the complaint. There was no effort to investigate the complaint or discuss the allegations with the perpetrators. There was no demand that the harassment cease and no threat of more serious discipline if it continued. Due to a failure to meet its remedial obligations, Azteca was liable for the co-worker and supervisor harassment. But, due to a lack of a link between the complaint and the discharge, the retaliation claim failed.