Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace based on race, color, origin, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, age or disability. That covers a wide variety of issues that protects an employee from discrimination in the workplace. However, it still happens. For an employer or supervisor to be liable for harassment or creating a hostile work environment, Missouri law has provided that several factors must be met. They are as follows:
• The person complaining of the harassment must be part of one of the protected classes listed above;
• The harassment must be unwelcome;
• The harassment or discrimination must be severe and pervasive or alter you employment in some way;
• The harassment must be based on one of the protected persons characteristics listed above.
The most difficult part of the claim to prove is that the harassment is severe and pervasive. The courts in Missouri have held that behavior must be more that “merely offensive, immature or unprofessional”. The supervisor’s “conduct must be extreme and not merely unpleasant or rude”. What does that mean?
Many employees work in atmospheres where joking and crudeness go back and forth. People are from a variety of backgrounds so what someone feels is offensive may not be offensive to another. The courts in Missouri employ the “reasonable person” standard. That means a reasonable person must find the comments so extreme and offensive that almost anyone would be offended. Furthermore, a few statements about an employee’s dress or sex may not qualify as being severe and pervasive enough to be considered harassment. Isolated incidents where insults are traded may not be enough to be considered severe and pervasive harassment. Horseplay may not be enough to be considered severe or pervasive. That being said, any physical, unwanted, impermissive touching can be considered severe. It can be considered offensive and harassing behavior.
What should an employee do if they feel they are being harassed or discriminated against? Most employers and human resources departments have policies to handle this type of behavior. It takes courage but an employee who is being harassed must follow those procedures to seek relief from the harassment. Simply complaining to other employees is not enough. Follow the steps outlined in the employer handbook. If necessary, the employee may also then contact the Missouri Human Rights Commission. What happens if my boss starts writing me up for violations or fires me soon after I complain?
You may be a victim of some sort of retaliatory behavior. If your boss is trying to find a reason to fire you or does fire you after you seek relief by following the policies and procedures listed in the employee handbook, you may be entitled to sue for retaliatory firing. To do this, you must show:
• You were engaged in a protected activity (like reporting harassment);
• Your supervisor took adverse action against you;
• There is a causal connection between the 1 and 2 listed above;
• You suffered a change in responsibility, salary or benefits, including demotion or discharge.
If you feel that any of this has happened or is happening to you, call us today to talk about you case. We may be able to help you. Call us. It is free.
See Missouri Revised Statutes Chapter 213
Herndon v. City of Manchester, 284 S.W.3d 682 (2009)
Barekman v. City of Republic, 232 S.W.3d 675 (2007)