The scenario: Shortly after they started working for an employer that had a mostly male workforce, female staffers recognized the frat boy culture that had taken root within the organization.
For instance, at social events, the men often encouraged the women to engage in an offensive game called “f-ck, marry, or kill,” which required the participants to identify a coworker and state whether they’d want to “f-ck, marry, or kill” the person. Even though the women participated in the game, they were uncomfortable doing so.
And it wasn’t unusual for social and business events to devolve into drinking games. Women who chose to not participate in the games soon found themselves ostracized. During one social event, a male employee pushed a female coworker into a pool, and the men erupted in laughter. Another female staffer was coerced into a suggestive dance during a karaoke event.
Women who refused to participate in the shenanigans were called “stuck up,” too intense and no fun.
It was also common practice for the male employees to talk about the appearance, clothing and relationship statuses of the women.
Legal challenge: Fed up with the offensive behavior, a group of women sued the employer, claiming a hostile work environment based on gender. The employer said the work environment wasn’t as hostile as the women made it out to be.
The ruling: The company won. The court ruled that the behavior of the men didn’t rise to the level of a hostile workplace.
The skinny: Yes, there can be a time and a place for activities, games and social events to help encourage crew camaraderie, but you have to make sure everyone is comfortable with the activities.
Cite: Tolton et al., v. Jones Day, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 1:19-cv-00945-RDM, 5/19/20.
(From the July 31, 2020, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To download the rest of the issue right now, please click here.)