Most people are familiar with “shock jock” radio programs that appear to compete with one another to come up with the most offensive programming possible. According to a new decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing these programs to be played in the workplace opens the employer up to sexual harassment claims. In Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., the female plaintiff complained about a range of crude and sexually offensive behavior by her male co-workers. Among her allegations was the fact that the employer allowed her co-workers to regularly play a morning radio program in the office which discussed, among other things, the breast size of various celebrities, masturbation and other sexual acts, sexual aids and bikini contests. The employer responded that the alleged activity did not rise to the level of a hostile and offensive working environment under Title VII.
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, reversing summary judgment for the employer, and remanding the matter for trial on the merits. The court directly equated the contents of the radio program with similar comments made by the plaintiff’s male co-workers. The court also said that the crude language and jokes in the workplace did not need to be directed at the plaintiff for them to be hostile and offensive.
The opinion does not discuss whether playing the radio program in the office alone, in the absence of any other conduct by male co-workers, would have been severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile working environment under Title VII. The Eleventh Circuit also does not explain why a program apparently allowed to be broadcast by the FCC violates Title VII when played in an office environment. However, based upon this case and similar federal court decisions, employers should not allow crude programs such as these to be played in the workplace where they can be overheard by others. If the employer receives a complaint about such broadcasts, it should promptly act to prevent such programs from being heard by employees who might be offended.