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Appellate ruling helps to clarify harassment claims

Boca Raton workers who have faced discrimination or harassment may want to take heed of a court ruling that clarifies the meaning of the standard used to judge a hostile work environment. The lawsuit was initially dismissed by a lower court. An appeals court reviewed the case and reinstated the plaintiff's original charges. At issue was whether an isolated incident could meet the Supreme Court's "severe and pervasive" standard.

The case involved a supervisor who used a racial epithet in inappropriate comments in a comment about shoddy workmanship. After complaining to another supervisor, two African-American men were fired without cause. They were later hired and fired again before filing a formal complaint that alleged retaliation, discrimination and harassment.

The appeals court unanimously found that the epithet, even in an isolated incident, constituted a hostile workplace environment due to context. In doing so, the judges also pointed to similar rulings from other courts. An attorney commented that employers may face increased difficulties in protecting employees from harassment. He advised employers to review policies and grow a corporate culture that has wider awareness of and intolerance for inappropriate comments. Another attorney pointed out that the ruling emphasized that once is too much for some behaviors.

The ruling makes it clear that severe instances of inappropriate comments, rude behaviors or lewd jokes may be sufficient to uphold a claim of harassment. An employee facing a hostile working environment may find it difficult to perform well in a position, gain raises and promotions, or simply get out of bed every morning to earn a living. Harassment claims may benefit from the review of an experienced employment law attorney who can often provide advice about the next steps to take.

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