Defining a Hostile Work Environment and Your Rights

Posted By V. James DeSimone Law || 7-May-2018

boss yellingYou’re there to do your job, and you’re doing what you feel is your best. But if while you are focused on work tasks you’re distracted by hostility and bullying, your job performance and overall well-being are affected.

Simply being annoyed or irritated by people or occurrences on-the-job is not the legal definition of a hostile workplace. But when it rises beyond merely uncomfortable to an environment that makes you fearful or impacts your ability to effectively carry out your work responsibilities, these conditions may fall under the protections provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if the harassment Is based on a protected status or conduct.

Title VII specifically prohibits discriminatory treatment towards employees based on race, national origin, age, religion, disability, and gender.

While an employee may have to endure certain annoyances in any job environment, if treatment by coworkers or management is hostile or discriminatory they are further protected under the 1991 Civil Rights Title VII amendment, which allows for “the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages” from the employer.

Further employee protections are governed by the United States Department of Labor (DOL), which prohibits workplace harassment based on the same provisions as Title VII.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Other employee protections are covered under the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the 1990 American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Yet, the laws that govern fair workplace treatment are complex; just because a work environment is unpleasant doesn’t necessarily mean it would be considered “hostile” as defined by Title VII. However, when the unpleasant workplace environment is so severe that the employee is in fear of persistently being ridiculed, intimidated, insulted, and/or discriminatorily offended or oppressed because of harassment—and it affects their job performance or opportunities for advancement – this may constitute an illegal hostile work environment.

While California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act also requires the harassment to be because of a protected status or conduct, California Labor Code Section 6401 states: “Every employer shall do every other thing reasonably necessary to protect the life, safety, and health of employees.” If an employer is placed on notice of threatening, hostile conduct and refuses or fails to protect its employees, it can be held to be in violation of the California Labor Code.

Jim DeSimone, the principal trial attorney for V. James DeSimone Law, often utilizes California’s Labor Code in conjunction with California Civil Code Section 52.1 subdivision (b) authorizes a civil action for damages:

If a person or persons, whether or not acting under color of law, interferes by threats, intimidation, or coercion, or attempts to interfere by threats, intimidation, or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any individual or individuals of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of the rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state … [Civ. Code § 52.1, subd. (a); emphasis added]

V. James DeSimone is a hostile work environment attorney who’s helped to protect employee’s rights and has served Southern California for over 30 years. For example, in one trial, the jury awarded his client $7.4 million plus attorneys fees when he had been terminated after he was subjected to workplace harassment and violence.

Whether an employee is being subjected to a legally defined hostile work environment, proof must be provided that harassment covered under Title VII’s protections is occurring. What’s more, such harassment must meet the classification of “severe” or “pervasive.”

California’s FEHA protection

When it has been proven that an employee was subjected to a legally defined hostile work environment, further protections are governed by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Under California’s FEHA protection, monetary remedies are available for employees whose hostile work environment meets the legal criteria of discrimination. An employee whose workplace environment was proven to be discriminatorily hostile may be entitled, if applicable, to any back pay (past lost earnings), front pay (future lost earnings), job reinstatement, earned promotions, out-of-pocket expenses, additional training, emotional distress damages, punitive damages attorney fees, and costs.

To determine whether a work environment meets the legal definition of a hostile workplace, the unlawful harassing conduct must be both unwelcome and as defined by the victim’s “protected status,” as described by the U.S. Department of Labor. Further, the environment must be “subjectively abusive to the person affected; and objectively severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.” Federal and state laws are very specific as to what constitutes a discriminatory, hostile workplace.

Proving the many factors that may constitute a hostile workplace lawsuit is a complex process, and often requires the assistance of an experienced lawyer who focuses on such matters. The following factors must be considered:

  • The conduct’s frequency,
  • The severity of the actions,
  • Whether there were physical threats, humiliation, offensive utterances,
  • Interference with work performance,
  • Detrimental psychological effects,
  • The work relationship of the harasser and more.

While a victim of a hostile work environment can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) on their own, determining whether such a claim is actionable may require the assistance of a qualified civil rights attorney who also has the experience and resources necessary for pursuing damages in such a complex legal process.

Consult With an Experienced Employment Lawyer Serving California

The attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law have the skills to evaluate whether your civil rights have been violated and also have the resources to hire investigators, interview witnesses, and file timely claims and motions. With multi-million dollar wins for our clients since our practice opened over 30 years ago, our reputation fighting for our client’s rights is well documented.
If you believe your civil rights have been violated because you’ve been subjected to a hostile, discriminatory work environment, your employer may be held responsible and required to compensate you monetarily and provide other restorative actions. Our lawyers understand the trauma those protected under Title VII experience when their rights have been violated.
At no up-front cost to you, if your case qualifies, we will personally review your case, advise you about your rights and determine whether you may have legitimate monetary and other recourse. Meeting with us is free, and if we take you on as a client, we don’t get paid until we win your case if we agree to take the case on a contingency fee basis.
Call 310-693-5561 today, or use our online contact form to speak to a V. James DeSimone attorney personally before your time to file a complaint runs out.