Soft Porn in the Workplace can be Sexual Harassment

Soft Porn in the Workplace can be Sexual Harassment

The Fourth Circuit recently allowed a woman’s sexual harassment case to proceed to trial.  The District Court had entered judgment without a trial in the employer’s favor, which was held to be legally erroneous on appeal.

In Hoyle v. Freightliner, LLC, a worker in a truck plant complained on numerous occasions of her coworkers putting up pictures of scantily clad women in sexually demeaning poses, putting a similar screensaver on her computer, putting a tampon on her key ring, and similar conduct.  Although the company said it would “look into” the conduct, nothing seems to have been changed.  The worker was first reassigned to janitor duty, then fired for excessive absenteeism, which she claimed was retaliation for making the complaints.

The Fourth Circuit said “A juror could reasonably find that sexualizing the work environment by placing photos of nude women or women in sexually provocative dress and poses in common areas is detrimental to female employees and satisfies the ‘because of sex’ requirement.”

It did uphold the dismissal of the retaliation and discrimination charges relating to her reassignment and discharge, however.  Although the treatment of her could reasonably be seen as retaliatory, the employer showed a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its actions.  Since the employee had failed to show that men had been treated better, when they were in trouble for absences, she cannot bring that claim to trial.

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