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Practice Areas • Practices • Hostile work environment

A "hostile work environment" is not necessarily what you think, legally speaking.

Ohio, like most states, is an at-will employment state. The at-will employment doctrine allows employers and employees to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason. Therefore, employers can legally terminate their employees for unreasonable, invalid, and irrational reasons.

The law carves out a few exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine that include filing a workers’ compensation claim, participation in union activity, and discrimination based on your race, color, national origin, sex or gender, disability, or age. Currently, employment discrimination based on an individual’s LGBTQ status is not included in the federal or state-law exceptions, although federal and state law recognizes discrimination based on “gender stereotypes.” (Cuyahoga County, Ohio in 2018 adopted an ordinance to bar LGBT employment discrimination, but it remains to be seen whether the county will properly enforce it.) Gender-stereotype discrimination occurs when employers discriminate against you based on societal expectations of how men and women should act.

Although the law recognizes a claim for hostile work environments, circumstances that actually qualify as a hostile work environment are extremely rare.

Plaintiffs seeking to allege a claim for a “hostile work environment” must first prove that they are in a protected class. If the harassing conduct is not based on the plaintiff’s characteristic that qualifies him/her to be in a protected class, then the claim will fail. Phillips v. UAW Internatl., 854 F.3d 323, 327 (6th Cir. 2017).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has consistently held that the alleged conduct must substantially interfere with the plaintiff’s work performance. Bruce v. Meharry Med. College, 692 Fed.Appx. 275, 278 (6th Cir. 2017). Plaintiffs must prove that the conduct was both subjectively and objectively "severe or pervasive" enough to create an objectively hostile work environment. Thus, rude remarks, casual joking, and isolated incidents will not create a hostile work environment.

Even though they may feel hostile.

Typically, the conduct must occur frequently, and over a lengthy period of time. Courts will examine the facts on a case-by-case basis, carefully analyzing (1) the frequency of the conduct, (2) your reaction to the conduct, (3) others’ reaction to the conduct, and (4) how a “reasonable person” would characterize the conduct.

Additionally, plaintiffs must prove that their employer created the hostile work environment or knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take action to prevent it.

Thus, although the "hostile work environment" claim exists as a matter of law in connection with discrimination claims including sexual harassment, it hardly ever survives in court.

You are not alone. Call The Chandra Law Firm LLC today.

We encourage you to seek guidance from our experienced employment lawyers if you are unsure whether the discriminatory or harassing conduct you are experiencing is sufficient to meet the "severe or pervasive" standard to qualify as a "hostile work environment." Remember, to qualify, it can't just be that people are being hostile and that the work environment is tough. The hostile work environment must be tied to a prohibited form of discrimination.

Our Cleveland-based boutique litigation firm provides large-firm skills, experience, and resources with small-firm personal attention to your case's unique needs and goals. It is why clients throughout Ohio and across the United States have turned to our attorneys to hold businesses and employers accountable for true "hostile work environment" cases.

Our lawyers can send a strong message that you intend to seek the justice you deserve for the discrimination you face.

You can reach our firm, which serves clients throughout Ohio and the nation, by calling 216-578-1700 or by filling out our online contact form.

One of our intake specialists will take detailed information for attorney review. They are highly trained at obtaining the information needed to evaluate your case.

If you are preparing to complain about discrimination or constructive discharge, we can help you do it in a way that helps you fight back—with evidence—if you face retaliation for doing so.

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