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Court rules single incidents can create hostile conditions

Texas employers may believe that a single incident of harassment isn't enough to create a hostile working environment. However, according to a July 14 ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, this is not necessarily the case. The ruling says that if an incident is extreme enough, it may constitute a hostile workplace on its own.

The case that led to the ruling involved two African-American workers who were removing a fence. According to their complaint, a supervisor used a racial slur and threatened to fire them if the job was not done correctly. The workers were fired two weeks after complaining about the incident to another supervisor. While the workers were eventually rehired, they were terminated because the company claimed that there was a lack of work.

A lower court had initially dismissed the claim after the men filed a complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, a panel from the 3rd Circuit noted that other courts had ruled that single incidents can create severe and pervasive conduct. The panel also noted that the context of the incident had to be looked at when determining if it rose to that level. Those who study workplace harassment urge employers to create an inclusive culture in an effort to prevent such incidents from occurring.

Workers who feel they have been victims of harassment in the workplace may wish to take legal action. It may be possible to seek compensation for back pay and other damages from an employer. It may also be possible to seek reinstatement to the position that an individual held when terminated. An attorney may help a worker establish that an employer broke the law when interacting with an employee.

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