Julie E. Green persuaded the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a sexual harassment and retaliation claim against an employer involving allegations of a hostile work environment.
The court determined that issues of material facts underlying the allegations of Ms. Green's client, a former employee of a bank, precluded summary judgment in favor of the employer, and that the case should be tried before a jury.
At issue is whether a series of sexually suggestive comments by a former supervisor to the plaintiff created a hostile work environment in violation of federal and state law, and whether the employer, after the plaintiff complained about the supervisor's behavior, retaliated against her by terminating her employment.
The court found that Ms. Green's client alleged sufficient facts to raise a reasonable inference that the supervisor engaged in sex-based discrimination, and that a reasonable jury could determine that the supervisor's conduct, as alleged by the plaintiff, was both subjectively and objectively offensive, two key elements of a hostile work environment claim.
"A hostile work environment claimant must prove that comments and behavior of a sexual nature are 'severe and pervasive,' which can be a high threshold to meet," said Ms. Green. "This decision is significant because the court, by recognizing the importance of the context in which sexually suggestive remarks and behavior occur, determined that a supervisor can create a hostile work environment even without making an explicit sexual demand or unwanted contact."
The supervisor did not physically touch the plaintiff or explicitly demand sexual favors, but, as alleged by the plaintiff, repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments in her presence and strongly implied a desire to establish a romantic relationship.
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