Dirty Joke Emails of Plaintiff Can be Used in Sexual Harassment Case

October 23, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a woman suing her employer for sexual harassment,claiming that her boss' sexual innuendo was offensive and humiliating, cannot block a jury from hearing about the dirty jokes found on her own workplace computer.

The Legal Intelligencer reports that U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter found, in such cases, the plaintiff’s own sense of humor — in her emails with co-workers and friends — may be relevant to the jury’s inquiries about whether she would be offended by her boss’ attempt at salty humor. Pratter denied a motion asking that all of Susan Seybert’s emails be deemed inadmissible.

Pratter said the defense lawyer must be given the right to explore the plaintiff’s own workplace speech habits in an effort to undermine her claim that she was offended. International Group, Inc. (IGI) and its lawyer are “entitled to pursue the argument that the emails are relevant to Mrs. Seybert’s possible appreciation of this type of humor, and specifically, whether she was subjectively offended by [her supervisor’s] comment,” Pratter wrote, according to the news report.

According to the opinion, the emails “contain sexual stories, jokes, images and metaphors of a more general nature, exchanged in an apparent attempt at humor, however ill-advised or lame.”

Seybert claims that her supervisor stared at her breasts on two occasions and responded negatively when she told him to stop. She also claims that, at a company dinner, the supervisor made a sexually suggestive comment, loudly and in front of co-workers.

According to the Legal Intelligencer, in a prior ruling, Pratter refused to grant summary judgment to IGI, finding that although Seybert had alleged only three incidents that had “overt sexual overtones,” there was also evidence to show that the supervisor’s sexual conduct was immediately followed by other hostility toward Seybert, including belittling her and yelling at her, and later giving her bad performance reviews.

“Although not all of this mistreatment was overtly sexual, under the ‘totality of the circumstances,’ a jury could find that Ms. Seybert was mistreated and harassed ‘because of her gender or sex,” Pratter wrote in the prior opinion.

The latest opinion in Seybert v. The International Group, Inc. is here .