You know those creepy people who drive around real slow with their car stereos blaring? Those creepy people have jobs. And when you are stuck sitting next to one at work, you can’t just start up your cubical and drive away.
Your co-workers’ radio volume isn’t the only reason you may feel harassed by a co-worker’s listening habits. More and more people have portable satellite radios, which broadcast without the decency restraints the FCC places on traditional AM/FM radio shows. Sexually explicit talk and songs lyrics laden with swear words commonly come out of satellite radio (and sometimes come out of regular radios and CD players).
Satellite radio isn’t the only new source of music in the workplace. Computers can “stream” radio shows and podcasts and play them through the computer’s speakers. Podcasts (digitally recorded music or talk) cover every possible topic under the sun – including explicit talk that does not usually see the light of day. Modern computers can also play music CDs, and like satellite radio, CDs are not censored by the FCC.
If you have to put up with a co-working playing radio shows, CDs, or podcasts that are off color, offensive, or downright discriminatory, is your boss at fault for not stopping it? A woman named Ingrid Reeves tried to do just that, and the court just decided her case.
Ingrid Reeves Complained About Her CoWorkers’ Radios
Ingrid Reeves worked as a sales representative in a cluster of cubicles where she was the only female. Her co-workers played radio programming that featured frequent talk about women as sexual objects. Reeves was offended by discussions on the radio about: (1) the breast size of female celebrities and Playboy Playmates; (2) sexual arousal and women’s nipples as indications of sexual arousal; (3) masturbation, both in general and with animals; (4) erotic dreams; (5) ejaculation; and (6) female pornography.
Advertisements aired during the radio program also included topics that offended Reeves, such: (1) sexual favors; (2) a bikini contest that instructed women to wear their most perverse bikinis; (3) a statement that a woman was found in bed with three elves and a candy cane; and (4) a drug called Proton that promised to increase sexual performance, please a partner, and make the user a “sexual tyrannosaurus rex.” When she complained about the radio Reeves’ co-workers told her she could just change the channel if she was offended. But when she did change the channel, her male co-workers changed it back.
Reeves did complain to her branch manager. The branch manager did talk to the male employees at a company meeting about changing their language and behavior. But nothing changed.
In fact, the afternoon before one male employee’s last day at the company co-worker told Reeves “You better bring your ear plugs tomorrow…” The male sales rep said the departing employee could say what ever he wanted on his last day work, since he couldn’t be fired on that day.
Reeves Co-Workers Used Graphic Sexual Language That She Overheard
In addition to the radio programming, one of Reeves’s co-workers frequently used sexually crude language that offended her. This employee, according to Reeves, “was consistent, [a]cross the board, day in and day out, in the sexually offensive language, phrases, jokes, songs, comments, remarks.” She said that he often used the phrase “f__ing bitch” or “f___ing whore” after hanging up the phone; he once called the only other female employee in the office a “bitch” after she had left the room, and he once remarked that she had “a big ass.” Sexual jokes by this co-worker were also commonplace, including one for which the punch-line was “f___ your sister and your mother is a whore.” Finally, he once said, “she’s a cunt,” referring to a female. Reeves told this co-worker on multiple occasions that his language made it difficult for her to work, but he did not change his behavior.
Eventually Reeves quit and filed suit, claiming she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment. To win in court, Reeves needed to be able to show that:
…the harassing behavior was “severe or pervasive” enough cause a reasonable person to feel compelled to quit.
The company responded to Reeves’ suit by arguing that Reeves shouldn’t be allowed to bring such a lawsuit at all. The company claimed that Reeves couldn’t sue because she wasn’t the target of the conduct; she merely overheard the discriminatory talk radio shows and male banter because she sat in the same set of cubicles as “the guys.” A lower court agreed and dismissed her case, saying none of the talk—either from co-workers or the radio—was directed at Reeves. Reeves appealed. What did that court say? (Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., (April 28, 2008)
How Did the Court Rule?
The Court ruled that “sex specific” profanity, including words such as “bitch,” “tramp,” and “slut,” are “more degrading to women than to men.” The Court ruled went on to say that “the daily exposure to language and radio programming that are particularly offensive to women—despite the fact that it may not have targeted Reeves specifically”–was enough evidence to send the case to a jury.”
The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and reinstated Reeves’ harassment case against her former employer.
Undercover Lawyer’s Tips To Take Away
1. Speak Up About Co-Workers’ Radios. In several recent cases fed up employees were able to show that their work place was “hostile” toward women in part because of radio programming. Take note if your employer doesn’t have a policy about radios in the work place, or does not enforce its policy about radios in the work place. Be sure to tell your boss that you are offended by your co-workers’ radios.
2. Hand Your Boss A Copy of Reeves’ Case. Companies are shocked when employees know more about the law than the managers or the H.R. people. This is because employers spend thousands and thousands on attorneys – but attorneys want to keep their knowledge to themselves or else they are no longer needed. On this site you can quickly become a legally savvy employ. Just print out the Reeves case, hand it to your supervisor, and say “I’m offended by my co-workers’ music and the radio shows they listen to. You have to make it stop.” Here’s where you can print a free copy of the case: Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
3. You Can Rely Only on Radios to Make Your Case To Your Boss: To win a lawsuit you will probably need more evidence than offensive radios at work. But your boss should not require any more “evidence” from you before taking action and putting a stop to offensive radio programs. You know why? Because if your boss ignores you, then you have TWO pieces of evidence to show a court: 1) the offensive radio; and 2) the fact that you complained to your boss and your boss brushed you off. If that happens, your boss is only giving you more ammunition to use against your employer in court or in an EEOC complaint.