Is this Harassment?

I am accused of saying a coworker dressed like "a crack ho" 3 weeks ago to another coworker. I do not remember saying it but someone told her I said it and she has gone to HR and is pressing the issue. I do not and have not ever spoke the coworker. Can they call this Harassment?

2 answers  |  asked Aug 21, 2007 8:03 PM [EST]  |  applies to Pennsylvania

Answers (2)

Christopher Ezold
One comment, alone, is generally unlikely to be illegal harassment.

Before I respond to your inquiry, I must state that we have not spoken, I have not reviewed the relevant documents and facts, and I do not represent you. Therefore, my discussion below is not a legal opinion, but is informational only. Finally, my discussion applies only to issues to which Pennsylvania or Federal law apply, unless otherwise specified.

That being said, one comment, alone, is generally unlikely to be illegal harassment. The comment appears to have racial and gender overtones to it, and is clearly considered offensive by the subject of the comment. However, the courts have held that one comment is generally not enough to constitute harassment. Harassment has to be severe and pervasive enough to change the 'terms and conditions' of the victim's employment. One comment can almost never reach that level. Therefore, the comment, if you uttered it, is unlikely to be considered illegal harassment.

A more pressing question for you, however, is not whether the comment would be harassment based on race or gender discrimination, but whether it violated the employer's policies regarding conduct in the workplace. As most employees are at-will in Pennsylvania, the employer may fire you on the spot for the comment, regardless of whether there is a policy against such comments.

You need to speak to the coworker to whom you allegedly made the comment - if that person recalls you making the comment, you should apologize for your behavior to the employer and the subject of the comment. Failure to take responsibility is a likely path to termination.

If you would like to discuss this matter further, please feel free to contact me at the below address(es) or number.

/Christopher E. Ezold/
Nancy O'Mara Ezold, P.C.
One Belmont Avenue,
Suite 501
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
(610) 660-5585

posted by Christopher Ezold  |  Aug 22, 2007 12:50 PM [EST]
Harold Goldner
Harassment v. Unlawful Harassment

Life is full of harassment. Getting to work on SEPTA is harassment. Driving on the Schuylkill Expressway is harassment. It's just not unlawful harassment.

Unlawful harassment is harassment based upon protected classifications such as age, race, sex, national origin or disability. It is conduct which another employee finds offensive.

When Don Imus made his ill-fated quote last winter, some thought it was funny, but others believed it was offensive, and it was the response of those finding it offensive which resulted in his going off the air.

So, to bring this home, you certainly aren't the victim of unlawful harassment, and your comment, if made, *was* conceivably offensive to someone, and was tinged with racial overtones.

Being tolerant means all the time, not just when you're not with those just like you, because you can never tell what's offensive to another co-worker.


posted by Harold Goldner  |  Aug 22, 2007 11:42 AM [EST]

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