A federal appeals court panel has ruled that a supervisor did not violate the rights of a subordinate when he allegedly yelled at her in front of coworkers and violently threw a heavy notebook at her.
A panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the above conduct may be “unprofessional, uncivil and somewhat boorish” but it does not rise to the level of malevolence necessary to constitute a “hostile work environment” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act o f 1964.
Instead, the appellate panel compared the behavior to the “ordinary tribulations of the workplace,” which include petty insults, vindictive behavior and angry recriminations.
The decision, written by Justice Janet Rogers Brown, comes in a case that is also unusual because it involves the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent agency charged with addressing the grievances of federal workers who challenge discriminatory employment practices.
Patricia A. Brooks, who is an African-American, filed a race discrimination complaint alleging that she was a victim of a “hostile workplace environment” at the Office of Information Resources Management of the MSPB.
Brooks, who had worked at the MSPB since 1998, said her supervisor in 2005 insulted and demeaned her in front of coworkers when he yelled at her and threw a heavy notebook in her direction. The supervisor admitted slamming the book with his hand. Brooks said she was subsequently given poor performance ratings and became subject to selective enforcement of workplace rules.
After filing several equal employment opportunity complaints, Brooks filed a lawsuit alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII. A federal judge dismissed Brooks’ complaint on a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, which means the judge ruled that no reasonable jury could find that the supervisor’s “conduct was so severe and pervasive as to alter the conditions of Brooks employment.” The three-judge panel for the D.C. Circuit court upheld the dismissal of Brooks’ complaint.
Justice Brown writes in an April 15 decision that Brooks failed to show that she was subjected to “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult” that was “sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment.” Justice Brown said the panel evaluated the “totality of the circumstances, including the frequently of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, its offensiveness and whether it interferes with an employee’s work performance.”
Even if the supervisor did violently throw a book at Brooks, the appellate panel said, the incident involved “unprofessional conduct” but was isolated and not sufficiently malevolent to constitute actionable abuse.
A retaliation complaint and other other claims were rejected on technical grounds.