Harassment at work needn’t be sexual to be illegal

When a female employee brings a lawsuit for a “hostile work environment,” it typically means that the employee was sexually harassed. But harassment can be illegal even if it isn’t sexual, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently decided.

For example, in that case a female school custodian claimed that her supervisor regularly criticized the work of female employees, prohibited female workers from talking to each other when not on break, and required female workers (but not male workers) to report by radio when they were taking their break.

When the custodian sued, the school district argued that the case should be thrown out because the alleged harassment wasn’t sexual in nature – the supervisor didn’t make any improper sexual advances.

But the court said that a “hostile work environment” claim could be brought if a supervisor mistreated workers based on their gender, regardless of whether he engaged in sexual harassment.

However, the court threw the case out anyway, because it found that the supervisor’s conduct in this case wasn’t serious or pervasive enough to create a “hostile” environment.