Is this "hostile work environment" claim full of shit?

So on Monday I’m going to have to give the sexual harassment lecture to two of the staff, and I don’t think they deserve it. Here’s the scoop:

There is a Starbuck’s not far from my office frequented by many of the staff. A few days ago, two of them – “Boromir” & “Aragorn” – went there after work to work on a sales proposal over lattes. In our company, insides sales account executives here don’t have company laptops, so they were using Aragorn’s personal one. While they were working, a third account exec, “Eowyn,” came in alone to do homework. She sat near the other two, exchanged pleasantries, and got to work.

On Friday morning Eowyn filed a sexual harassment complaint. Why? you ask. Because at one point during the evening, Boromir got up to go the bathroom or whatever, and a moment after that Aragorn got up to get a fresh coffee. While both where gone, the laptop’s screensaver activated, and Eowyn got a glimpse of it. And it was (gasp!) pictures of men in speedos.

Eowyn’s fairly conservative, and this vision left her scandalized. She complained the next day that by leaving the laptop visible in her sight, while it was being used on a company project, Boromir & Aragorn clearly were trying to create a hostile work environment.

I think this is…well, stupid. She sat beside them. The laptop doesn’t belong to the company. They weren’t on company property. I’m pretty sure she knows Aragorn’s gay.

And yet I have to give them the speech.

Anyway…thoughts? Is Eowyn as full of crap as I think? Or has she a point I’m missing?

As described, this seems to be the kind of crap that makes it hard on people with legitimate complaints about sexual harassment and hostile work environments. I can see Glenn Beck getting wind of this and making some sort of Major Issue about “frivilous lawsuits” and “sexual harassment as myth” and “trial lawyers”.

I don’t know if she is full of crap, or if she honestly was offended, but either way, I don’t think they need the lecture. If she was honestly offended, then she is the one that needs a lecture.

It’s not my call who gets the lecture. None of them work directly under me; I’m the trainer and the department head likes to slough crap like this onto me. I suspect this is his way of mollifying Eowyn without putting anything on Boromir & Aragorn’s records.

And if I gave her the lecture, I’d be the next person getting complained about.

These are the important points, IMO.

She’s over-reacting. It’s not a hostile work environment because they aren’t shoving this photo in her face all the time at work. A chance glimpse of someone’s laptop screen is not the same thing.

I agree with ShotClock. This kind of stuff makes legitimate claims hard to bring.

PERSONAL, not legal, opinion only.

Eowyn is full of crap.

If somebody made a claim like that, I’d be looking for a hundred other legit reasons to can THEIR ass in the near future. No telling what other crazy crap/trouble they will stir up in the future.

The only remotely acceptable point I can come up with off the top of my head is that she has other REAL complaints that she cannot document for some strange reason, or this is just the tiny straw that broke the camels back so to speak, though it looks pretty retarded standing there by itself.

Of course, very roughly speaking, that the courts have pretty much defined sexual harassement to be if someone “feels” harassed they,by definition, are, doesnt really help matters either.

I’d check with Personnel before doing anything just to cover my ass but my first take is that there is no claim there. They were in a public place after work and not in the office, no one told her to work in public instead of at her desk, it’s not a company computer and she’s responsible for where her eyes land in public. None of this seems to me to be the responsibility of the employer.

Men in speedos,Oh My God!. Call the Doctor, boil some water, elevate her feet, and for gods sakes someone call 911!:eek:

Hasn’t this woman ever read a newspaper or a magazine? Doesn’t she own a TV? There are ads everyday of men in speedos, bike shorts even underwear. Is it now going to be company policy that no one be allowed to bring news papers to work? Otherwise you could be facing discrimination lawsuits unless this standard applies to every one.

I think you should ask the dept. head if he has thought through the policy implications before you give the lecture.

It seems to me that she is the one trying to create a hostile work environment.

You know, I had allowed my irritation at being instructed to do this to cause me to forget that aspect. Since at least one of these guys is gay, delivering the lecture for such an incredibly stupid reason might be iffy, as it reeks of homophobia. I think I’ll dash off an email pointing that out, and with any look it can get kicked to HR where it belongs. Because I certainly don’t want to touch it.

I vote full of crap.

In your place, in all honesty, and if I really couldn’t get out of giving the speech, I would just “give them” “the speech”. Or in other words, pull them into a conference room, tell them exactly what you just told us, tell them that this is obviously crap, and tell them that if anyone asks, you gave them the speech. And that they should be extra careful around Eowyn, because she’s nuts and there’s no telling what she’ll complain about next.

Be careful about anything you say directly. They could be called into a courtroom to testify and if you said something like “this is stupid, but I have to do it anyway” that would be worse than not saying it at all. On the other hand, you could do it in a way that indicates you don’t take it seriously, but not have any quotable language to come back and haunt you.

:: whistles innocently ::

Why, I would never think of doing such a thing. Given a task to perform, I perform it without reservation or equivocation.

The more I think about it, the more I think I need to politely decline to give this speech. Whoever does it is opening himself up to something irritating from Aragorn, and probably Boromir too. (I don’t know whether Boromir is gay.) Eowyn’s complaint, as I’ve read it, is not merely pissy, it’s homophobic, and smacks of “I’ve been looking for a way to stick it to this gay boy.”

How was it creating a hostile work environment when it wasn’t in a work environment?!

Next thing it’ll be a hostile work environment when she’s waiting at the bus stop to go to work and there’s an poster advertising mens underwear on the side of the bus.

Good grief.

Wow. If that’s a hostile work environment, I work in a Taliban training camp. One of the bone radiologists with whom I trained kept a variety of scantily clad models on his work computer as screen savers. His classic comment though, was to walk into the reporting area, see a tibia/fibula/ankle x-ray on someone’s screen, stop, look again, and render his critical comment : “nice legs”.

You’re right, that would probably be better. That’s why I said “In your place”, as I tend to be perhaps a little incautious about this sort of thing when I think it’s a stupid order. :smiley:

In all honesty, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s a gay thing (in absence of more knowledge about Eowyn). I’ve met a few lunatics in my day that take offence to even the slightest suggestion of flesh. Still, I do think that appeasing her in this case is setting an unpleasant precedent that your company probably doesn’t need set.

The one thing that makes me think it might be anti-gay is that I know what church she goes to. It’s the same church I grew up in, which she knows. Last fall, during the beginning of the protests over Prop 8, she made some comment to me about gay marriage being an abomination. I cut her off really quickly and told her that I had not even a smidgeon of a ghost of a whisper of a problem with homosexuals, so if she was looking for a sympathetic ear, she had best try someone else.

I’ve worked in HR for a very legally astute company. IANAL, but consider my base of experience as hopefully worth something.

I doubt Eowyn has a winnable case at this time, assuming the company addresses this. But I believe you should address this. I don’t think the “not on company property” thing would hold any water if that were your only defense. Otherwise everyone on a business trip would be fair game for whatever type of harassment came their way. Also, a lawyer would have to disentangle the whole “using personal laptop for company business” thing. I wouldn’t count on that saving you.

If I were having to give this talk, I would focus on “when you are doing company business, you need to be 100% professional. If you wouldn’t wear it on your t-shirt or your bumper sticker to do company business, you shouldn’t put it on your screen saver. It can create a legal risk for the company.”

The way this case could become winnable to Eowyn is if you ignore this, or make fun of it, and people run with that and begin to harass her constantly with pictures of men in various stages of undress. Hostile environment is very rarely (if ever) about a single incident, but about a pattern of behavior. Hold the line on professionalism. Smart people who care about their careers don’t do stuff that creates a legal risk for the company so that they can have a cute screen saver.

Yeah, I’ve thought of that. The only thing that makes me think Eowyn has even a glimmer of a point is that they were working on a company-related project when it began. But they were doing so on their own time, and I think she would have been similarly offended (or would have similarly affected to be offended) if they had been in the coffeehouse working on their novels.

As I wrote above, I want to stay out of it the more I think about it. None of them work under me; let their managers do it.

Also, be very, very careful about doing anything that might look like punishing Eowyn for her complaint. A case for Retaliation can exist even if the underlying complaint was completely bogus. Probably the worst, most common mistake companies make is turning a crappy Sexual Harassment case (one the employer would surely win) into a slam-dunk Retaliation case (one the employer would surely lose).

Excellent point by **Hello Again **on the retailiation. Very true.

Somehow I didn’t catch that they don’t work for you. In that case, let their managers handle it, by all means.

But I wouldn’t count on the concept of “working on a work project on their own time” as holding up. If they are non-exempt, they would need to be paid for the time they spent working, and if they are exempt, the concept of “their own time” isn’t very clear. They are paid for the work, not the time.