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Hostile Work Environment Definition
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Can You Be Harassed at Work by …a Radio?

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.

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Comments

  1. NINAFCG says:

    What if there is no HR and the company has its own tactics to strong arm you into doing tings you don;’t want to do.

    On two occassions where a discipline letter was sen to me and I would not sign it because it was blatantly wrong on so many of the isues that they were trying to say I had done.

    It was comical – they actually said fine don’t sign it – it goes into your file anyway. I had no HR person there to back me up or to go to on sveral occasions wher I felt harrased – even brought to tears by the comments (demeaning) from an employer who was sitiing in his house emailing me. I have researched Constructive Disma=issal and was wondering what the results have been when it doesn’t include necessarily Sexual harrassment – but includes some of the other Examples that are listed as candidates for such action – Falsely accusing an employee of misconduct or of not being able to carrying out their job – I have proof that my existence in the company has made it better – its just the economy and poor sirection that has lead my the owner to believe i am not ‘worth the money” as he so boldly put that also.

    It is absolutely rediculous to take such harassment.

    Please help

  2. I went through the same pattern of treatment you speak of here
    and forced out of my job. One day I was great, the next day I was no good.

    No HR either, I was the HR department and… I was the director. I have 8 years in nonprofit management, trained as an executive by a national organization.

    Was in my position for 1.7 months. Second woman to be “forced out” in two years. No notice, no cause, just “adios” and…not even a 2-week severence unless I signed away my life! Of course, I didn’t sign anything. Now I sit in a place far flung from any other similar position at my pay level. They even tried to keep me from collecting unemployment benefits. I got it because they lied and I told the truth.

    Unbelievable treatment for professionals! I know how you feel.
    I wish you well…stay positive.

  3. NINAFCG,

    You are in a very unfair and very tough situation. You need to learn about protected classes, and how to use them to protect yourself when you are an “at will” employee. At-will just means that the employer can fire you any time it wants without even having a good reason. It should be called “at whim” employment. There’s good information about this in my email course that you sign up for in the green box at the top right side of this page. If you don’t want to sign up for the course you can find a fair description of “at-will” and “protected class” on wikipedia. What’s happened to you is not right, but you have to learn how to match up the wrong things your boss does with protected classes that you belong to.

    Eve:

    Thanks for sharing your story. A similar story is the main feature of my podcast episode #1; you’d probably hear a lot of similarities with your own situation. That doesn’t have to happen to you again, though, as it appears you have learned.

    -Curt K

  4. pnavadom says:

    PTSD
    anxiety sleeplessness
    obsession over the situation
    depression
    thoughts of violence to others
    panic attacks,headaches,chronic fatigue,weight gain

    look up Psychological Violence workplace bullying
    stress and work trauma

    intentional trauma generated by the deliberate actions of one or more people Cumulative
    Work Trauma is an injury
    I do not think I can work any more.
    This went on for 12 years on and off in Chicago.
    I got real sick just before 911 like i knew something bad was coming.
    I need a lawyer to help me.i do not want some big lawsuit—
    i actually worked for lawyers and they were not the problem.
    i do need health insurance my credit fixed I want to be left alone.
    i have to live on something.
    my doctor doesn’t understand the extent of the stress.
    My Father died and was long term chronically ill when i was young.
    this early childhood trauma left me vulnerable for more trauma.

    We have severe labor problems and I can not take it anymore
    who will help me.
    i run off of jobs i was set up at Northern Trust bank I AM AFRAID OF THESE PEOPLE. They are Terrorists.
    no one takes it serously.
    They think i want a BIG LAW SUIT—-i want help SS my doctor wouldn’t sign for.
    i am pissing through money.

  5. justiceatwork says:

    I don’t know how an employer (the CEO) in recent meeting shared her decision in response to me filing a statement that I was verbally harassed (assaulted) by a coworker off and on for over my 4 hr shift, can state that it was decided by them (her staff that supposedly investigated my complaint) that is WAS NOT considered harassment and no other action was necessary to be taken. She read their harassment policy and confirmed that I was the victim by asking me to respond, read the consequences that they practice IF an employee is found guilty of harassment but then turned it flipside and said that because “harassment is in the eyes of the beholder (me)” that it has been concluded that it was not but was merely a disagreement between coworkers. Now, what do I do because I AM NOT HAPPY WITH THAT OUTCOME!! I got to state that I didn’t accept this conclusion, their decision and felt strongly that it was truly harassment and that I intended to go further with this. What should my next step be?

  6. observant78 says:

    Can You Be Harassed at Work by …a Radio? Yes, whether or not your boss or the courts think so. A loud stereo radio or CD player can be used not only for sexual harassment but for any kind of message a harasser wishes to force upon you. I was harassed at work by the broadcasting of religion daily for over 2 years. The question is not if you believe, but are you free to believe what, where, how, and when you choose. Of course I looked like the Devil incarnate when I complained. This was only one element of a series of many harassing behaviors directed at me by a co-worker in a small office environment. Religious harassment by radio was the closest thing of the many harassments that would possibly be “illegal”, but the number of employess was too small to be governed by the EEOC.

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