When is a hostile work environment illegal?

Our practice is limited to hostile work and school environment cases based on sexual harassment, gender harassment, racial harassment, sexual orientation harassment, disability harassment and harassment based onother protected categories such as religion, national origin and age(over 40).

Not all hostile work and school environments are illegal. The abusive conduct must be motivated by the victim’s sex, race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age or membership in someother protected category. Examples of hostile work environments which are illegal are:

  • The use of racial, religious, or national origin slurs. Such conduct makes clear that the harassment is motivated by racial, religious or national origin prejudice. The use of harassing symbols may make motive equally clear, such as showing an African-American the confederate flag.
  • Unwanted offensive sexual speech or conduct. Whether directed at the same or opposite sex this is actionable.
  • Disparaging a person because of his or her gender. For example, habitually referring to women but not men in derrogatory terms such as bitches.
  • Disparaging a person because of his or her failure to conform to gender stereotypes. For example, disparaging men who are perceived as effeminate as sissies.

An example of offensive language or conduct which is probably not illegal is the typical screaming boss who has something disparaging, mean or disrespectful to say to everyone.

Some state laws protect additional categories of victims and/or prohibit other types of conduct.

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