A Matter of Personal Space

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on Oct. 6, 2010 in the case of Vera v. McHugh that a supervisor’s allegedly intentional encroachment on a subordinate’s personal space was severe and pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment under Title VII.

The plaintiff , a U.S. Army soldier, shared a small office with her male supervisor.  She  alleged that for three months he stared at her,  sat very close to her,  made it difficult for her to leave the office and called her “babe” on one occasion. She alleged that he enjoyed her discomfort, and would smirk at her reaction to his behavior.

The First Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for the Army, remanding the matter for jury trial. The court ruled the plaintiff alleged sufficiently severe and pervasive conduct to constitute a violation of Title VII if proven.

Federal courts take different positions with regard to the level of severity necessary to constitute a hostile work environment and sexual harassment under Title VII.

The First Circuit includes U.S. District Courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island.

The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.