Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Court Rejects Hostile Work Environment Claim Based On Racial Comments and A Text Message

On November 23, 2009, in the case of Griffin v. Harrisburg Property Services, Inc., No.: 1:CV-08-1655 (M.D. Pa. 2009), District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo dismissed plaintiff's claim of a hostile work environment that was brought after plaintiff, a male African-American security employee, was subjected to two racially charged comments by his supervisor, a caucasian male, and also received racially explicit text message from that same supervisor. Shortly after receiving the text message, plaintiff reported the incidents to a different supervisor, who conducted an investigation, granted plaintiff's request for a location transfer, placed a final warning in the commenting supervisor's employment file, and conducted an in-house diversity training session.

The Court held the the evidence of two racial comments and one racially explicit text message was sufficient to establish a claim for intentional harassment based on race that was severe or pervasive, and which had a detrimental effect on the plaintiff. But, despite this finding, the Court dismissed plaintiff's claim because: (1) there was no evidence that the supervisor had relied upon his employment authority or that the company had aided him in any way while making his derogatory comments; and (2) in conducting its investigation, placing a final warning in the supervisor's file, granting plaintiff's transfer request, and conducting an in-house diversity session, the employer had taken appropriate remedial actions that were reasonably calculated to remedy the harassment. The Court held that these facts were sufficient to insulate plaintiff's employer from liability of the supervisor's actions under Title VII.