Monday, October 31, 2011

Equal opportunity harassment is not unlawful sexual harassment

For harassment to qualify as sexual harassment it must be because of sex. That means that the complained-of misconduct is of a sexual nature, or it singles out women differently than men. Non-sex-based conduct that targets women and men the same, no matter how harsh, is not sexual harassment. Case in point? Miceli v. Lakeland Automotive Corp. (N.J. App. Div. 10/19/11) [pdf].

During her tenure at Lakeland Automotive, Diana Miceli was its only female salesperson. Generally, she alleged that her manager abused, belittled, and harassed her. She admitted, however, that the manager treated the other salespeople (all male) the same way. Because the manager was an equal-opportunity abuser, the court upheld summary judgment:

The sales manager’s abrasiveness was not limited to Miceli. In Miceli’s deposition testimony she stated that “[e]veryone complained about [the sales manager].” Miceli admitted that the sales manager treated another male co-worker “extremely abusive[ly]” and “very condescending[ly].” …

[T]here is no evidence to suggest that the … conduct, although rude and obnoxious, was motivated by gender. “Personality conflicts, albeit severe, do not equate to” hostile work environment claims simply because the conflict is between a male and female employee.

There is no law against being an ass, just against being an ass based on some protected characteristic.