The frequency of sexually offensive conduct is but one consideration in determining whether the conduct is actionable. The courts have recognized that single incidents of severely offensive conduct can create a hostile work environment. An isolated incident may support a sexual harassment lawsuit if the conduct is severe and distressing. For example, a male employee who publicly shouts sexist profanity at a female coworker may be taken to court for sexual harassment. Also, a waitress has a sexual harassment claim when male customers grab her by the hair and breast. Such conduct is physically threatening and humiliating behavior which unreasonably interferes with the victim’s ability to perform her duties. Likewise, a female prison guard can make a sexual harassment claim based on an assault by a fellow guard during which the male guard called her a “bitch,” threatened to harm her, pinned her against a wall, and twisted her wrist severely enough to damage her ligaments, draw blood, and eventually require surgical correction. The court in that instance held that a jury would be entitled to conclude that the assault the victim suffered was severe enough to alter the terms of her employment, even though it was a single incident.
Not only is sexual harassment illegal. The law also prohibits:
- Racial harassment
- Religious harassment
- Age-based harassment
- Harassment based on disability
- Harassment based on ethnicity or national origin