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Rude conduct may not cause Minnesota sexual discrimination

Rude conduct in Minnesota may not constitute a hostile work environment that is sufficient to support a workplace discrimination legal case, according to the U.S. Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Instead, a victim must establish that discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult permeated the workplace.

In its 2014 decision, the court reviewed a claim filed by a female employee who engaged in a confrontation with her male supervisor over her work for the employer's newspaper. According to the plaintiff's deposition testimony, the supervisor slammed his hands on his desk, screamed and cursed at her. She tried to leave but the supervisor placed his hands on her three times and prevented her from leaving until she began to swear and holler.

The plaintiff informed the paper's publisher, who was her boss' supervisor, and a human resources representative of the incident. No disciplinary action was taken against her boss, however. She later gave two weeks' notice of her resignation.

In dismissing this federal Title VII action, the court ruled that a plaintiff must meet the demanding standard for establishing a hostile work environment. A plaintiff must establish membership in a protected group, the occurrence of unwelcomed sexual harassment, this harassment occurred because of the victim's sex and, that harassment impacted a term, condition or privilege of employment.

The court agreed with the federal district court that several other cases involved much more offensive conduct. The supervisor's actions in this case did not meet the required standard common to those cases. Although the court found that the behavior was unfortunate, it ruled that it merely involved a workplace disagreement which did not convey a sexist connotation.

The court also rejected her sexual discrimination claim because she did not establish that her employer afforded her different treatment because of her gender. Her constructive discharge claim was also insufficient because the defendants did not try to force her to quit and tried to keep her employed. Her retaliation claim was not established because there was materially adverse employment action taken against her.

This case demonstrates that rude behavior at a Minnesota workplace, while not necessarily grounds for a guilty verdict, can cause business disputes, lawsuits and other employment disputes. Legal assistance with preparing human resource policies can help avoid these issues and mitigate a civil action's impact.

Source: GPO.gov, "Rester v. Stephens Media, 739 F.3d 1127 (8th Cir. 2014)," accessed on Jan. 11, 2015

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