Can you have a sexual harassment case without there being any sex involved?
Absolutely! A recent case demonstrates that s
exual harassment does not have to be "sexy" or provocative in
nature -- it can also consist of pranks, obscenities, and other abusive
or bullying behavior, as long as the behavior is based on the person's sex.
Robert Caparanis began working in Ford Motor Company's Ohio assembly
plant in March 2008. He was not your typical auto worker. He didn't
drink, do drugs, or swear around women, and he was passionate about golf,
rrather than hunting or fishing. Sometimes his behavior was a bit unusual,
as when pretended to be pregnant and rocked a fake baby while wearing
his work apron.
Starting in 2010, things started getting a bit dicey for Caparanis. His
co-workers sent him sexual text messages which basically questioned his
masculinity. They started subjecting him to silly pranks, such as putting
a male personal ad and women's clothing magazines in his work area.
At one point he asked for an emergency bathroom break, which was denied,
and resulted in him urinating in his pants.
Caparanis complained to his supervisors several times. Nothing happened,
and then he was terminated, for among other reasons, having a company-owned
keyboard in his personal locker. (This is called a "pretext"
A lawsuit was filed on the basis of discriminaton because of sex. (Robert
Caparanis v .Ford Motor Co., United States District Court, Northern District
of Ohio). He claimed that he was discriminated against because "he
did not conform to (or was perceived not to conform to) the stereotypical
expectations and images of masculinity." He also claimed that he
was the victim of "sex stereotyping". Ford tried to have the
case thrown out, but was rebuffed by the District Court.
The standard in the Sixth Circuit, where this case was brought, is that
discrimination occurs "when 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". For a claim of "sex stereotyping"
to succeed, the plaintiff must show that he fails to act or identify with
his or her gender, or where gender non-conformance is demonstrable through
the plaintiff's appearance or behavior.
The court found in Caparanis' favor, stating that the evidence of the
vulgar acts directed toward him, taken as a whole, created a hostile work
environment due to sexual stereotyping.
The takeaway? Sexual harassment can take place between individuals of the
same gender, even if no sexual attraction exists between them.