Hostile Workplace Environment Law and Legal Definition

A person who is subject to hostile environment sexual harassment in the workplace because the employer, supervisor, or co-worker does or says things that make the victim feel uncomfortable because of his or her sex may have a right to sue the employer. It is not necessary to show a demand for an exchange of sex for a job benefit, the creation of an "uncomfortable environment" is sufficient under the law.

Title VII protects individuals from economic or tangible discrimination, such as the denial or loss of a job or promotion, and prohibits a work environment abusive to employees because of their race, gender, religion, or national origin. A plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII by proving that discrimination based on sex has created a hostile or abusive work environment.

In order to prevail in a lawsuit, the conduct complained of must be shown to have been offensive to the plaintiff. Jokes, pictures, touching, leering, unwanted requests for a date have all been found by courts to be sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in the workplace can be between people of the same sex. Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a woman harassing a man. A hostile environment in the workplace may also be created by discriminatory behavior based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. The discrimination or harassment in the workplace must be severe and pervasive, rather than a mere idle comment, even if, offensive. Also it must be shown that management is aware of the harassment or discrimination and has failed to take action against it.

Only when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the employee's employment and create an abusive working environment is the law violated. The affirmative defense to vicarious liability to a victimized employee for an actionable hostile environment created by a supervisor comprises two necessary elements: (a) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, and (b) that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.

Victims of discrimination in the workplace or sexual harassment in the workplace can recover for their lost wages, future lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys fees.

According to the U.S. Hostile Workplace Survey 2000, Gary Namie, Ph.D., Research Director, September, 2000, individuals who suffer from a hostile workplace were predominantly women (77%). Their average age was 41.Targets were at greatest risk for hostility from women perpetrators (84% vs. 69% from men). According to a 2003 research report (, 33% of the bullying situations resulted in the victim/target quitting their job. 37% of the them resulted in the victim/target being terminated. In only 13% of the situations was the bully terminated or transferred. See