“Geez, what do I have to say to get you to do something about Bud Allen?” Greg Forsythe complained to his supervisor, Jerry Coberg.
“You’ve mentioned your problems with him before,” Jerry said. “But what do you want, I should tell him to play nice? You’re a big boy; you should be able to handle it when a guy gets out of line. Warn him off.”
“Out of line is one thing,” Greg said. “Completely out of control is another.”
He frowned and went on. “The guy grabs my butt, he pokes it with tools, he tells me I have nice lips, and once he called my house and left a voice mail saying he loved me and he missed holding me,” Greg said.
“Ew,” Jerry replied. “That’s twisted stuff.”
Gibes and vandalism
“You’re telling me,” Greg said. “And that’s not all. He makes fun of me when we’re lifting heavy equipment – says I’m a weenie – and I think he damaged some of my personal stuff on the jobsite. Like my cooler, which I found beat up in a dumpster, and my thermos, which I found broken.”
“Well, I can tell you one thing: Bud isn’t gay,” Jerry said. “I’ve known him for years, during which time he’s had at least 10 girlfriends. So all that sex stuff, he’s just messing with you.”
“I don’t care whether he’s gay, straight or likes purple aliens,” Greg said. “He’s making work a nightmare for me, and I’m not going to put up with it forever.”
‘Tough it out’
“Maybe this isn’t the right job for you, then,” Jerry said. “We work in a rough industry with some rough guys, and you’ve gotta get used to it or try something else.”
“But since you insist, I will say something to Bud,” the supervisor went on. “Thing is, though, he’s a stubborn customer. I don’t guarantee he’ll change.”
Bud’s bad behavior continued, and Greg eventually quit his job.
Later, he sued the company, claiming that it allowed Bud to create a sexually hostile work environment. Did Greg win?
No, surprisingly enough, Greg didn’t win his hostile work environment case.
A federal appeals court said it was clear Bud had bullied Greg. But unless the bullying was “because of sex,” in the words of Title VII, the main federal anti-discrimination law, it wasn’t prohibited by that law. And for Greg to prove Bud’s harassment was sexually based, he’d have to show that Bud was homosexual, which he couldn’t do.
As the court put it, “The conduct of jerks, bullies and persecutors is simply not actionable under Title VII unless they are acting because of the victim’s gender.”
All of the above notwithstanding, supervisor Jerry was seriously remiss in failing to check Bud’s highly inappropriate behavior.
Even in a rough, male-dominated workplace, the boss has a duty to maintain basic civility. Time is wasted and productivity lost when supervisors fail in that responsibility.
Cite: Wasek v. Arrow Energy, No. 10-2418, 6th Cir., 6/20/12. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.
Subscribe to the Leadership Blog
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox