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Fourth Circuit Again Finds Sexual Harassment Created by General Workplace Behavior

    Client Alerts
  • January 14, 2011

Until several years ago, in order to prevail on a claim of sexual harassment under Title VII, plaintiffs in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' jurisdiction (including North and South Carolina) had to demonstrate that the alleged hostile environment consisted of acts directed at them because of their gender.

Recently, the Fourth Circuit changed this view, allowing sexual harassment claims to proceed to trial where the plaintiff was exposed to a culture of sexual and denigrating behavior towards women in the workplace, even if that conduct was not directed at her personally. Last month, the court further extended this principal, finding a hostile work environment based largely on sexist and demeaning attitudes and opinions toward women expressed by co-workers.

In Mosby-Grant v. City of Hagerstown, the plaintiff was a police academy cadet, who contended that her failure to graduate was caused by the behavior of her fellow recruits. She alleged a wide range of complaints, most of which involved explicit and derogatory references to women in general. Cadets and instructors used the word "bitch" to refer to women, and male recruits complained about domestic violence training. The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to scorn and ridicule by her co-workers based on her gender.

In a 2-1 decision, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the plaintiff's allegations were sufficient to state a claim of hostile environment harassment under Title VII. The court concluded that the cumulative effect of comments demeaning to women is equivalent to an environment where women are subject to unwanted sexual advances.