New Orleans, LA-After seven years, a Louisiana iron worker has finally won a victory in his ongoing sexual harassment case with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirming that his former supervisor harassed him because he wasn’t “masculine.”
Kerry Woods was an ironworker for Boh Bros., a contractor assigned to I-10 Twin Span bridge project over Lake Pontchartrain, filed his suit in 2006, alleging that his boss Chuck Wolfe verbally harassed him and exposed his genitalia.
According to the original complaint, Wolfe taunted Woods, calling him derogatory names such as “pussy,” “faggot,” and “princess” because he thought Woods was effeminate. Wolfe would also come up behind Woods and simulate anal intercourse when he turned his back.
In an interview with the EEOC, Wolfe expressed particular disdain for Wood’s habit of bringing Wet Ones wipes which he used in place of toilet paper. Wolfe said the habit was something girls would do.
Wolfe’s harassment of Wood continued on a near-daily basis and the EEOC filed a suit on his behalf. They were originally victorious and Woods was awarded $451,000, the Louisiana Record reported.
Boh Bros. filed an appeal with 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who overturned the original judgment, stating that the EEOC did not provide sufficient evidence that Wolfe’s harassment was based on sex, a requirement under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC asked the court to review the case and upon review, the panel decided there was sufficient evidence to prove that Wolfe harassed Woods based on a gender stereotype—masculinity– and therefore was still considered sexual harassment. The court also concluded that Woods didn’t actually have to prove that he was “effeminate” or “unmanly,” to have a legitimate claim.
This case is important since it reaffirms that gender stereotyping is a form of sexual harassment, and same-sex sexual harassment does not have to be rooted in sexual desire in order for the target to file a complaint under Title VII.
It has been a challenge for gays and lesbians who are subjected to harassment based on their sexual orientation to prove that they are being subjected to the harassment based on sexual desire. While some states, most recently California, have passed statutes which make harassment based on sexual orientation illegal, there are many other states where LGBT individuals have no legal recourse if they are harassed because of their orientation.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision will influence laws in the states covered by the court which included Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The laws concerning sexual harassment have not been updated in many years to extended protections to the LBGT persons.
Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in the workplace, and many incidents go unreported. People who are being sexually harassed or subjected to other hostility in the workplace are afraid to speak out without having someone on their side. A sexual harassment attorney can be you advocate and give you the strength to stand up to your harasser.