“Harassment that results in a tangible employment action or is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment will establish an actionable claim under the EEO statutes.” EEOC.gov.
As is the case with many areas of the law, this simple sentence leaves plenty of room for interpretation. In fact, virtually every word of that sentence has been interpreted through countless court cases. Speak with one of our workplace harassment lawyers to determine if you have a claim that can be brought into court.
Was I Harassed?
The legal definition of harassment is very different than what the average employee would consider harassment. Illegal harassment must be either “severe" or "pervasive” harassment. A “severe” event is one so egregious that it alone constitutes harassment. In some cases, a single racial slur was enough to satisfy this standard – in a different case, an employee brandishing a firearm was not enough. The definition of what is severe is certainly up to interpretation and our harassment lawyers can help you determine if your situation meets this standard. “Pervasive” harassment means smaller events that, taken together, create a single claim of harassment. This standard is even harder to define than “severe.” Something as small as co-workers not eating lunch with you can be pervasive harassment if it happens frequently enough.
Is It Discriminatory?
The court expects you to establish that your "protected class" is somehow related to the harassment you are experiencing. You can fall into many protected classes, based upon your race, gender, national origin, whistleblowing activities, opposing discrimination toward another, etc. You can prove the connection between your protected class and harassment through either "circumstantial evidence" or "comparator evidence." Circumstantial evidence includes a great deal of different things that, to create a general definition, don't pass the "smell test." For example, if your manager has made comments about members of your race, has made off-color jokes that are derogatory toward your religion, or only invites men to after-work parties, then you have what is called circumstantial evidence of discrimination. Comparator evidence, by contrast, is evidence that your manager is punishing a group of people more harshly than other employees for the same thing. For example, if your manager writes up Indian employees for being late to work but gives everyone else he manages a pass, then you have comparator evidence of discrimination.
Harassment claims are arguably the most complex claims to review and it is often very difficult for anyone other than an experienced harassment lawyer to know with any degree of certainty if a given case can be successful or is worth any monetary investment to pursue. If the actions taken against you at work fall into the harassment category, I strongly encourage you to contact our harassment lawyers so you can obtain our evaluation of your potential claim.