Court Requires More Evidence of Sexual Harassment

In recent years, many courts have rejected sexual harassment claims after finding that the acts complained of were not substantial. In offhand parlance, the courts have remarked that the employment discrimination statutes on the books are not a “civility code” and have reserved liability for only the more serious cases. Issues of harassment can be difficult to prove in the non-physical context (i.e., when the alleged harassment involved insults, the work environment and things other than physical contact). A recent example of this phenomenon is the case of Haberman v. Cengage Learning, Inc. in which the court affirmed summary judgment for the defense. The plaintiff alleged that she was harassed by her supervisors. There were performance issues as well, but the plaintiff focused on sexually charged remarks. In rejecting the claim, the court noted that the “hostile work environment” form of sexual harassment is actionable only in cases where it is “pervasive or severe.” There is no recovery for harassment that is “occasional, isolated, sporadic, or trivial.” The existence of actionable harassment depended on the “totality of the circumstances” and must be both objectively and subjective offensive. This case provides an excellent background for anyone contemplating bringing a sexual harassment claim. A copy of the court’s opinion is attached.