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Legal Recourse For Hostile Work Environments

By Samuel Cordes

Employers will face strict repercussions for creating a hostile work environment that results in constructive discharge. A lawsuit that has gained widespread media attention highlights the issue.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many other federal laws prohibit discrimination and harassment in the workplace on the basis of sex, religion, and race, among other factors. Employers will face strict repercussions for violating such laws.

They will also face scrutiny if the discrimination or harassment creates a hostile work environment for the employee that causes the employee to resign due to the offensive work environment. But what constitutes a hostile work environment?

What is a hostile work environment?

Generally, a hostile work environment is essentially a bullying type of environment. Employees often feel fearful because they are constantly at the heart of abuse or intimidation while at work and such actions interfere with their ability to perform their daily job responsibilities.

In some instances, the harassment is so severe that essentially employees are pushed out the door and feel they have no other choice but to quit. This is known as constructive discharge.

A lawsuit that has gained widespread media attention highlights the issue.

Understanding constructive discharge

The case involves four different hotels all owned by the same owner in the state of South Carolina.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-a federal law enforcement agency known as the EEOC that investigates discriminatory complaints in the workplace-filed a lawsuit against each hotel on behalf of eight current and former Hispanic employees. The EEOC alleges that the employees suffered severe racial discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. Certain acts were highlighted.

The employees claim they were banned from parking in certain parking areas and prohibited by the owner from speaking Spanish anywhere on the premises. Some employees were also forced to change or “Anglicize” their names; others were transferred to new positions allegedly due to their thick accents.

And, according to the EEOC, such tactics were so severe that within 6 weeks from the start of the harassment, all but one employee had resigned.

Legal avenues

Unfortunately, constructive discharge and other discriminatory actions happen all too often in workplace environments all across the country. Some employers are blatant about their discriminatory actions, such as the instance involving the hotel employees; others are more subtle.

However, it’s important to understand that constructive discharge can take many forms. Employees who have been discriminated against in the workplace and have quit as a result are encouraged to speak with an employment law attorney who can offer advice on individual circumstances and legal options available.