Thursday, April 4, 2019

I fart in your general direction: flatulence as harassment?

An Australian court has rejected an employee's claim that his supervisor unlawfully harassed him by farting on him.

David Hingst sought 1.8 million Australian dollars ($1.3 million) in damages based on a claim his supervisor would enter his small, windowless office several times a day and "break wind on him or at him … thinking this to be funny."

According to NBC Chicago, Hingst said that his supervisor at Construction Engineering, Greg Short, would "fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day." For his part, Hingst would respond by spraying Short with deodorant and calling him "Mr. Stinky."

The court was not persuaded that the stink bombs were illegal.

In oral submissions, the applicant put the issue of Mr Short's flatulence to the forefront. He submitted that 'flatulence is substance', not merely peripheral, and that the judge should have so found. The applicant submitted that the flatulence constituted assaults, and challenged the notion that he had accepted that the issue was peripheral.  

Yet, the court found that the "farting" was not "bullying in the 'legal sense.'"

This case got me to thinking, has an American tribunal ever dealt with a similar issue?

The closest I could find is Stanford v. Department of the Army, an EEOC decision. The case involved a white male alleging race and sex discrimination. The allegations stemmed from what he perceived as the Department's different treatment of his farting in the presence of female co-workers as compared to that of an African American co-worker.

Complainant argues that he was "written up" because a Black female accused him of "farting" …. He argues that Black males can "fart" in the presence of the Deputy and other co-workers and not be disciplined…. 
We find … that complainant's harassment claim is severe or pervasive enough to state a claim of harassment.

I'm not sure I would have reached that same result.

But here's the thing. Can we all just act like adults. Yes, farts can be funny. My 10 year old laughs at them all the time. But he's 10. He's not a grown-up, working at a job. So can we all try to act like grown-ups, treat each other with respect, and not make a federal case out of every trivial thing that happens at work? We will all be the better for it.

* Image by Łukasz Dyłka from Pixabay