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Posted on Friday, June 22, 2012

Shoving or Discrimination?

A male supervisor who was offended at a comment made by a female employee during a meeting, shoved the female employee on her arm.  The female employee sought treatment for the alleged pain from the altercation, and she also claimed to have suffered headaches, nightmares, and high blood pressure as a result of the incident.  The female employee eventually sued the company, claiming that her experience there constituted both harassment and a hostile work environment.  The company disputed her claim as legally flawed, and asked the court to dismiss her lawsuit without a trial.

Who won?
The company won.  A federal judge in Alexandria dismissed the case a few weeks ago after finding that there was no evidence that the shoving incident was motivated by the male supervisor’s hostility toward women.   This case is a good example of how federal discrimination laws are often wrongly invoked to remedy workplace situations that, while being inappropriate, do not rise to the level of actionable discrimination.  The terms “harassment” and “hostile work environment” have specific legal meaning in the context of federal discrimination laws, and only harassment or hostility that is motivated by a bias against one of the protected classifications (gender, race, age, disability, religion, etc.) can support a discrimination claim.  Here, the evidence showed that the supervisor was mad at a comment made by the female employee in a meeting, but that her gender had nothing to do with the supervisor’s angry act toward her.

The female employee in this case was not without recourse for the shoving incident.  She could have filed an assault and battery lawsuit against the supervisor, and probably also brought the company into the case under the theory of respondeat superior.  But by raising her grievance in the context of a federal discrimination lawsuit, the employee learned the hard way that these laws are not intended to address all problems in the workplace.

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