Racial and sexual harassment remain pervasive in the workplace. There seems to be an infinite amount of these incidents of boorish, repugnant and illegal behavior as federal, state and local judges continue to hear case after case.
Recently, a U.S. appeals court in Cincinnati gave a second look to the case involving a former Ford Motor Co. employee who said she quit its Dearborn, Michigan production plant after the automaker failed to act on the excessive sexual and racial harassment she experienced from a coworker. On Sept. 2, the three-judge panel reversed the findings of a Michigan-based district court judge who previously ruled that the woman failed to prove that her coworker’s comments were “severe or pervasive” enough leading to a hostile work environment. As a result of the reversal, the panel remanded the case to district court for additional legal proceedings.
Daily harassment from supervisor
The plaintiff, DeAnna Johnson, who is Black, initially sued Ford in early 2019 within a month of her termination. Johnson said she suffered daily incidents of sexual harassment from a white male plant supervisor, with whom she closely worked for four months. Among the things she alleged that the supervisor did include sending her lewd messages and pornographic images and demanding nude photos of her.
Due to the ongoing harassment, Johnson took unpaid medical leave. She never returned to work at Ford. Her harasser was fired.
A judge from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit found that Johnson failed to prove that the coworker’s comments were “severe or pervasive” enough leading to a hostile work environment.
However, the appeals court found otherwise noting that the ongoing sexual and racial comments that she received were persistent enough to support racial bias claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Upon Johnson’s appeal, the three-judge panel declared that while the coworker’s comments perhaps were not severe, they occurred enough to make them pervasive.
Resolution awaits Johnson’s case. When you learn about cases like this one, you understand the challenges faced by victims of workplace sexual and racial harassment. It remains critical to stand up for yourself. In doing so, you could prevent similar harassment incidents from happening.