The conduct of individuals in a workplace may be illegal if it creates a hostile work environment that interferes with another employee’s work performance. Actions that may contribute to a hostile work environment include abusive behavior, threats, humiliating or offensive remarks, and inappropriate physical contact.
Typically, a claim of discrimination or harassment that alleges an employer has allowed a hostile work environment to exist is based on a series of acts that have damaged the worker’s conditions of employment. However, it may be possible to pursue a claim after a single egregious incident.
To successfully bring forward a claim for a hostile work environment in Florida, an employee has to meet several criteria:
- The employee must belong to a legally protected group.
- The employee has experienced harassment that was unwelcome.
- This harassment must be tied to a characteristic protected by law.
- The severity or frequent occurrence of this harassment must have significantly affected the person’s work environment, making it a hostile place to be.
- Lastly, there should be grounds for holding the employer responsible for letting such hostile behavior continue.
If you have been subjected to treatment at your place of employment that has created an intimidating or offensive work environment, an attorney at Cruz Law Firm, P.A., can review your case and help you understand the steps you can take. A claim may result in compensation for your lost wages, emotional distress, and more.
Our Tallahassee hostile work environment attorneys have nearly two decades of combined legal experience and are knowledgeable about the state and federal court systems. We are committed to protecting the rights of hardworking people in Tallahassee and have obtained justice for our clients by taking more than 100 employment discrimination cases to trial.
Contact Cruz Law to discuss your case in a free and confidential legal consultation with an experienced hostile work environment attorney. We understand how difficult it can be to stand up to employment discrimination. We offer every client dedicated, effective legal representation and personalized service, no matter how complex the case. Contact us to discuss your concerns with a knowledgeable employment law attorney today.
What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
There are several state and federal laws that protect workers in Florida from employment discrimination, which includes subjecting protected classes of employees to a hostile work environment.
Title VII, the FCRA, and other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), establish several protected classes.
It is illegal to discriminate in employment and other matters on the basis of a person’s:
- National origin
- Gender reassignment
- Sexual orientation
- Marriage or civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Genetic information (Florida’s Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA).
Hostile Work Environment Precedents in Court of Law
Multiple court cases under Title VII, which takes precedence over state laws, have established that a hostile work environment is discriminatory. In Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299, 1311 (11th Cir. 2012), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said a hostile work environment exists where “the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of … employment and create an abusive working environment.”
In Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 594 F.3d 798, 807 (11th Cir. 2010), the Eleventh Circuit said discrimination can take the form of a “hostile work environment that changes the terms and conditions of employment, even though the employee is not discharged, demoted, or reassigned.”
In Reeves, the Court said acts of hostility must be directed at a protected group or an employee in a protected class to constitute a hostile work environment. “Although gender-specific language that imposes a change in the terms or conditions of employment based on sex will violate Title VII, general vulgarity or references to sex that are indiscriminate in nature will not standing alone generally be actionable,” the Court said. “Title VII is not a general civility code.”
Therefore, for a hostile work environment to exist, harassment must be:
- Based on the characteristics of a protected class (race, sex, religion, etc.)
- Be directed at a protected individual or groups of protected employees, and
- Be pervasive enough to make the employee or employees unable to perform their job.
Examples of a Hostile Work Environment
A few examples of abusive, hostile, or intimidating behavior, which, if repeated, could constitute a hostile work environment, include:
- Unwanted touching
- Directing racial epithets at an employee
- Repeated comments or jokes about a protected characteristic
- Asking a pregnant employee about her sex life
- Insulting or degrading the religious practices of an employee or employees
- Displaying symbols or pictures offensive to a protected group
- Making sexual advances toward an employee or asking explicit questions (sexual harassment)
What Constitutes A Hostile Work Environment Claim?
If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment at your Florida place of employment, an employment discrimination attorney at Cruz Law Firm can help you to file a charge of discrimination with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will investigate your claim with the objective of ending the hostile atmosphere at your place of employment and negotiating a resolution of the complaint. This may include your company agreeing to compensate you for what you have been unjustly put through.
If mediation doesn’t resolve the charge to your satisfaction, the EEOC will investigate further and, if cause is found, will issue a Notice of Right to Sue. For a lawsuit to be successful, you would need to be able to demonstrate that:
- You have been subjected to discriminatory acts based on a protected characteristic, such as your race, color, sex, national origin, or disability.
- The discrimination was directed at you and has been offensive, severe, and
- The discrimination directed at you amounted to harassment and was not an isolated incident, a lack of respect or social inclusion, or simply annoying behavior.
- The harassment kept you from doing your job properly or kept you from receiving assignments, promotions, or other career advancements.
- Your employer did nothing to intervene and end the harassment.
How To Prove a Hostile Work Environment Claim
If you’re facing a hostile work environment in Florida, it’s important to know the criteria for a valid claim. Here’s what you need to establish:
- Membership in a Protected Group: You must be part of a group that is legally protected against discrimination.
- Experience of Unwelcome Harassment: The harassment you faced must have been unwelcome and undesired.
- Harassment Based on Protected Characteristics: The harassment should be related to a characteristic that is protected by law, such as race, gender, religion, etc.
- Severity of the Harassment: The harassment must be severe or pervasive enough to change the conditions of your employment, leading to an abusive work environment.
- Employer Liability: There must be a legitimate reason to hold your employer responsible for the hostile environment.
This criteria is based on the legal precedent set by the case Gupta v. Florida Board of Regents, 212 F.3d 571, 582 (11th Cir. 2000).
The Cruz Law Firm can help you file a claim with the EEOC and follow up with a lawsuit on your behalf, as necessary. We can help you organize evidence and witnesses to support your claim and help press your case for compensation in settlement negotiations with the EEOC and your employer. If necessary, we can file a lawsuit on your behalf and press your case for compensation in court or in negotiations with your employer.
To help support your claim, you should:
- Collect evidence of the harassment, including printed copies of offensive materials directed at you, such as email, text messages, social media posts, or any available photos or videos of the harassment occurring.
- Write out in your own words what has happened to you and how it has affected you. Include as many specifics as possible – names of perpetrators and witnesses, places and dates where the harassment occurred, and attempts you made to compel the harasser to stop or to report the harassment to managers or human resources personnel.
- Seek out co-workers who did not participate in the harassment and ask if they’d be willing to testify or sign a statement on your behalf.
- Obtain copies of your personnel record, performance reviews, customer feedback, awards and citations, and applications for promotions to help demonstrate that you were an employee in good standing with the company prior to being harassed.
- Obtain copies of your company’s employee handbook, policy documents, memos, and your employment contract to document how company policies address conduct in the workplace. This will help demonstrate that your employer had rules on the books about employee behavior that they ignored.
As your hostile work environment attorneys, Cruz Law Firm will be able to obtain official documents from your employer as part of the process of litigating a lawsuit. However, it will be beneficial to have the policy and other documents as they existed when you were being harassed.
Talk to Our Tallahassee Hostile Work Environment Lawyers
No one should have to endure workplace abuse just to make a living. Both state and federal laws expressly forbid employers from allowing a hostile work environment that adversely affects a protected employee’s work life. If you have been harassed at work to the point that it damages your job performance, a hostile work environment lawyer in Tallahassee with Cruz Law Firm can help you hold your employer accountable for what you have suffered.
Cruz Law can help you file an EEOC claim and follow up with a lawsuit on your behalf if federal authorities cannot reach a settlement suitable to you. We may be able to help you seek compensation for lost wages, loss of reputation, and emotional distress and suffering. In some cases, we may also ask the court to order punitive damages to punish an employer who intentionally created or recklessly fostered a hostile work environment.
Contact Cruz Law Firm to learn about your legal options, what to expect during the EEOC claims process, and how we can provide the legal assistance you need during this difficult time. Our experienced hostile work environment attorneys stand up for hard-working employees in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and across the Florida Panhandle. Call Cruz Law Firm at (850) 701-8838 today for a free and confidential consultation about your legal rights.