Hostile Work Environment
You deserve a fair and equal work environment free of unlawful harassment. A hostile work environment occurs when a workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or insult that is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with your job performance. This is what is known as an “abusive” work environment.
Our knowledgeable Nashville hostile work environment attorneys have successfully represented numerous victims of unlawful workplace harassment throughout Tennessee.
You can contact us at the above number or online.What Is a Hostile Work Environment?
Federal and Tennessee employment laws prohibit a hostile work environment that is based on an employee’s protected class or characteristic. The following are protected classes for workers in Tennessee:
- Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity)
- National origin
- Age (40 and up)
- Genetic information
To be considered a legally hostile work environment (i.e., actionable in court), the workplace harassment must be based on one of the protected classes above.
Workplace misconduct by a boss or coworker that is rude, inappropriate, abrasive, or even bullying is generally legal unless it is based on the employee’s protected class. For example, an equal opportunity jerk boss might belittle all employees in the same manner.
However, jerk bosses, bad management, personality conflicts, and favoritism are unfair but generally legal unless the reason for the different treatment is a legally protected class (e.g., a male superintendent on a construction job site constantly yells at and belittles the small number of female employees but not the male employees).Proving a Hostile Work Environment Claim
The most important factors in proving a hostile work environment claim are showing that the harassment is based on your protected class and that the harassment is so severe or pervasive that it creates an abusive work environment by interfering with your job.
- What is Pervasive?
- Frequent and recurring harassment (based on your protected class) over a long period of time
- What is NOT Pervasive?
- Isolated incidents or stray remarks spread out over several months or years
- What is Severe?
- Physical threats, unwanted touching, or using highly offensive slurs or insults based on a protected class
- Physically humiliating, demeaning, ridiculing actions
- Disrupting your ability to work
- Interfering with your career progress, e.g., denied a promotion
- What is NOT Severe?
- Simple teasing, offhand comments, talking loudly, chewing loudly or burping – these are rude and obnoxious, but generally legal
Employment legal claims are highly nuanced and discussing your potential claims with an experienced Nashville hostile work environment lawyer is recommended.Prima Facie Case of a Hostile Work Environment
To establish a presumption that you work in a legally hostile work environment, you must show that:
- (1) you are a member of a protected class;
- (2) the harassment was unwelcome;
- (3) the harassment was based on a protected class;
- (4) the harassment unreasonably interfered with your work performance by creating a hostile, offensive, or intimidating work environment; and
- (5) employer liability
If an employee establishes these elements, then the employer may be liable for its action or inaction in failing stop the hostile work environment from occurring.Employer’s Duty to Stop a Hostile Work Environment
Employers are responsible for what happens in their workplaces. The law hold employers liable for unlawful workplace harassment based on the doctrine of vicarious liability. But different legal standards apply depending on who is harassing you:
- Your Supervisor: The company is automatically held responsible for the actions of the supervisor.
- Co-worker: A court asks whether or not it was reasonable to believe that the company knew or should have known about the harassment and if it failed to take corrective action.
- Example 1: For over 10 years the plaintiff was exposed to racial slurs, demeaning jokes and inflammatory graffiti, experienced isolation and segregation and disparate discipline and additional duties. YES – This plaintiff had a viable claim for hostile work environment.
- Example 2: Three sexually offensive remarks made by the plaintiff's supervisor at the beginning and end of a six-month period. NO – This plaintiff did not have a viable claim.
The value of a hostile work environment case varies significantly based on many factors, including what employment laws apply, the severity of the discrimination, how much money you have lost in wages and benefits, the type and quality of evidence, whether or not you reported the harassment, and if the employer has a history of similar employment law violations.
Contact one of our Nashville-based hostile work environment attorneys at the number above or online for a free online case review.Damages in Hostile Work Environment Cases
- Economic Damages: Economic damages include back pay and front pay. Back pay includes the wages, salary, and benefits you lost as a result of the discrimination. This amount is calculated from the date of your termination to when your case is decided by a jury. Front pay is like back pay except it anticipates your lost earnings and benefits into the future caused by the hostile work environment. This amount is calculated from the date of judgment until a time period determined by a judge or jury.
- Emotional Pain and Suffering Damages: The law also permits damages that compensate you for the emotional distress caused by the hostile work environment. Depression, anxiety, and other medical issues occur all too often due to employer misconduct. You may also recoup medical expenses incurred as a result of the hostile work environment.
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are available in cases involving intentional workplace harassment. These damages are meant to punish the employer and deter similar unlawful conduct in the future.
- Attorney’s Fees and Costs: If you go to trial and win your hostile work environment case, you may also receive your attorney’s fees and costs, an amount that often totals well into six figures.
Note that compensatory and punitive damages in most hostile work environment cases are subject to a combined monetary cap under federal law. Compensatory damages are also capped under Tennessee law, and punitive damages are not available for state-law claims.
These caps are based on the size of the employer’s workforce as follows:
- 8-14 employees ($25,000)
- 15-100 employees ($50,000)
- 101-200 employees ($100,000)
- 201-500 employees ($200,000)
- 501 or more employees ($300,000)
These limits do not apply to backpay, interest on backpay, front pay, equitable relief, or any damages recovered under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.Employer Duty To Notify Employees of Their Workplace Rights
Employers who are covered by federal employment laws are required to post notice of anti-harassment laws in the form of the “EEO is the Law” poster. This mandatory poster is prepared by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and must be placed in a conspicuous location where notices are customarily posted (e.g., break room). Employers must also keep all payroll records for a minimum of three years and all wage calculation methods are at least two years.Statute of Limitations for Tennessee Hostile Work Environment Claims
Hostile work environment claims have strict deadlines called statute of limitations. If you miss this deadline then you will be barred from going to court for your employment law claims. For many harassment claims you may have 300 days or less to file a complaint with the EEOC.Protect Your Legal Rights – Contact Us Today
If you have suffered from an abusive work environment, contact our Nashville hostile work environment lawyers for your free online case review at the number above or online.