Rutgers Fires Basketball Coach Mike Rice
Today, Rutgers fired Men's Basketball Coach Mike Rice,
after video of his abusive actions during team practice surfaced, and was
widely criticized by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Here to read the story from CNN.com and to view the video.
The video shows Rice pushing players, throwing basketballs at them and and
yelling homophobic slurs such as "You f**king fairy... you're a f**king
You may wonder, "What if my boss did those things to me, would that be an
illegal hostile work environment?"
Ok, the key to your question is the word "illegal."
Without question, Rice created a "hostile work environment."
However, I am reasonably confident that he did not create an ILLEGAL
hostile work environment.
To understand what constitutes an illegal HWE, you must start at its genesis,
Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Here is the key where Title VII is concerned: Title VII prohibits
only negative employer actions undertaken because of the race, sex, age,
national origin, religious beliefs or disability of the employee. A HWE
exists where an employer treats an employee badly BECAUSE the employer does not
like the employee's race, age, national origin, etc.
Title VII does NOT prohibit bullying.
Now, let's analyze Rice's behavior through this prism.
Under Title VII, it is NOT Illegal to Bully
Let's start with the pushing of players and the hurling
of basketballs. Such actions do not, in and of themselves,
violate Title VII. Title VII does not prohibit hitting employees or
throwing objects at them. While such behavior may be criminal, it does not
violate Title VII. That is that.
Now, Title VII would prohibit such actions if the
employer is doing it because it dislikes the employee's age, sex, race,
etc. Here, however, that is clearly not the case. I am sure that
Coach Rice did not actually believe his players were gay; he did not push
them and throw balls at them because he thought they were gay and hated gay
people. He just did it because he was a jerk. Being a jerk is not
illegal under Title VII.
Under Title VII, it is NOT Illegal to Call
Employees Bad Names
Now, we look at the epithets and name calling.
Again, slurs invoking the sex, race, national origin, etc. of an employee
may certainly constitute an illegal hostile work environment
PROVIDED THAT the employer is saying those things because it
dislikes the subject qualities of an employee.
So, while calling a 60 year-old employee "old
man" may be unlawful, calling a 30 year-old the same is not.
Calling an employee who is known to be a in
perfect health a cripple because he comes to work one day with a twisted ankle
is not illegal. Saying the same thing to a wheelchair-bound employee is
Here, calling the players gay slurs was not illegal
because Rice did not say those things because he thought they were gay.
Oh, and one more bit of
food for thought: As
currently configured, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based-upon
sexual orientation. So, under existing federal law, it
is not illegal to fire someone because he/she is gay.
Read more articles
about employment law issues at Philadelphia Area Employment Lawyer, a blog
by John A. Gallagher.
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