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No Harassment Claim from ‘Moronic’ Acts

Employer, a modular home manufacturer, wins summary judgment in a Title VII hostile environment suit filed by plaintiff, a 52-year-old woman who was terminated by the company; coworkers’ “boorish, moronic” behavior was not enough to sustain her claim.

Plaintiff has failed to show that her coworkers’ conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment. While some of the comments made by two coworkers were clearly inappropriate, and the court has no reason to doubt that plaintiff found them offensive, her coworkers’ behavior was simply not of the same magnitude as that which the 4th Circuit has found sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute actionable sexual harassment.

Plaintiff does not allege that either coworker ever touched her inappropriately, or earnestly propositioned her for sexual acts. She does not allege they went out of their way to disgust her and make her feel uncomfortable by engaging in demonstrations of sexual acts or extremely graphic discussions regarding their sexual activity. She does not suggest that she was subjected to frequent comments about her body. She does not claim that she was exposed to demeaning, gender-based epithets or subject to physical threats.

Instead, plaintiff describes a workplace in which it was not uncommon for two of her coworkers to act in a boorish, moronic manner. While no one condones boorishness, there is a line between what can justifiably be called sexual harassment and what is merely crude behavior.

The actions that occurred most frequently – the two coworkers grabbing their crotches and making various comments on “these nuts” – were clearly inappropriate and unprofessional, but they were not so extreme as to amount to a change in the terms and conditions of plaintiff’s employment. Also, it is undisputed that these comments were not directed at plaintiff exclusively, and that they were instead made to male and female employees alike. The court likewise concludes that one coworker’s “blow job” and “wiener in the mouth” comments, and his remark that he bet plaintiff “could holler real loud,” each of which were made in front of plaintiff and her boyfriend on one occasion, are not sufficient to establish a workplace that is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to create an abusive working environment.

While the record reveals that plaintiff has a history of anxiety and depression, which may have been aggravated by her coworkers’ conduct, not every workplace aggravation gives rise to an actionable legal claim.

While the court does not condone her coworkers’ behavior, it must grant summary judgment to employer on the hostile work environment claim.

Even assuming plaintiff stated a prima facie case of retaliation, defendant has articulated a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for terminating her employment, namely, her involvement in a fight with a coworker. Upon investigation, employer determined that plaintiff, along with her boyfriend, verbally and physically attacked a coworker, and that their conduct warranted termination.

Summary judgment for employer.

Walker v. Mod-U-Kraf Homes LLC (Conrad) No. 7:12cv470, Dec. 19, 2013; USDC at Roanoke, Va. VLW 013-3-653, 23 pp.

VLW 013-3-653

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