Sex-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Dismissed; Alleged Profane, Insulting Language Insufficient

The “Jerk Boss” is a stock character of the American workplace; one would be hard-pressed to find someone who has not experienced (or a work-centric fictional setting that does not include at least) one.

And what is more indicative of a “hostile” workplace than a boss who loudly uses profanity and insulting language at work? Such conduct likely constitutes a “hostile” workplace environment – as as that term is commonly understood.

However, perhaps counter-intuitively, a “work environment” that is “hostile” is not necessarily a “hostile work environment” as that term is used in employment discrimination law where, as in many cases, it is determined that there is no link between the alleged hostility, on the one hand, and the target’s membership in a statutorily-protected class, on the other.

One such recent case is Jackson v. Maryland Department of General Services, No. SAG-20-1875, 2022 WL 3544254 (D.Md. Aug. 18, 2022). There, the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing her sex-based hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated Title VII by subjecting her to a hostile work environment, which exists where “the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). To establish a Title VII claim for a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must show that there is (1) unwelcome conduct; (2) that is based on the plaintiff’s [religion or protected activity]; (3) which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the plaintiff’s conditions of employment and to create an abusive work environment; and (4) which is imputable to the employer.

However, not every highly unpleasant or even abusive workplace amounts to a “hostile work environment” under the law. … One of the elements a plaintiff must allege for a hostile work environment claim is that the harassment was based on her protected status. …

Here, the only evidence in the record is Plaintiff’s testimony that Gray was loud and used profanity in his communications with his supervisees. There is no evidence that Plaintiff was treated differently because of her sex or that any of the profane comments, which Plaintiff testified were directed generally at employees, even related to her sex. Use of loud, insulting language does not create a hostile work environment, absent more particularized facts relating the conduct to some protected class.

[Cleaned up.]

The court concluded by rejecting plaintiff’s attempt “to incorporate allegations from her pleadings, without augmenting those bald assertions with evidence such as deposition testimony or affidavits to support her claims,” which, it held, is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.

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