Whistleblower Law Blog
Fourth Circuit Holds that Single Discriminatory Incident Can Give Rise to a Hostile Work Environment
In overturning the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that a hostile work environment – which typically results from a series of separate incidents – can also exist when an employee is subjected to a single sufficiently severe hostile action.
The Fourth Circuit found that Reya Boyer-Liberto, a former cocktail waitress at the Clarion Resort Fountainbleu in Ocean City, Maryland, was subjected to a severe hostile action when her supervisor called her a “porch monkey” twice in one night. The Court also found that Boyer-Liberto’s engaged in protected activity when she reported the incident.
The Fourth Circuit’s decision overturned the District Court ruling, which was based on the presumption that a claim of hostile work environment must allege a series of discrete events in order to be actionable. The Fourth Circuit found that the actions of Boyer-Liberto’s supervisor were sufficiently severe to give rise to a hostile work environment claim, even though the discriminatory behavior happened in the course of just one night.
The ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that a single instance of discrimination can constitute a hostile work environment enhances workers’ rights. When a single incident is sufficiently severe, employers cannot avoid liability for a hostile work environment claim simply because the alleged underlying discriminatory behavior did not occur in a series of separate incidents.
Tagged: Employee Rights