Sexual Harassment Doesn't Always Involve Sex

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Sexual Harassment Doesn't Always Involve Sex

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" in legalese.)

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.

Categories: Sexual Harassment

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