Evaluate Conduct as a Whole to Determine Hostile Environment

May 8, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a district court inappropriately concluded that an employer's actions were not severe or pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment.

In its opinion the 2 nd Circuit points out that Nicole Schiano did not claim that any one act of the employer created a hostile work environment, but alleges an ongoing pattern of offensive conduct.   The district court failed to evaluate the conduct as a whole, according to the appellate court.

Additionally, the district court erred in its comparisons of the alleged conduct to that in other cases.   “These determinations are to be made on a case by case basis considering all the individuals facts at hand,” the opinion stated.

The appellate court found that reasonable jurors may disagree about whether the incidents Schiano claimed would adversely alter her work environment, therefore summary judgment was inappropriate.

Schiano brought a case against her employer, Quality Payroll Systems, Inc. and Michael Tintweiss, a vice president of the company, claiming she was subject to a hostile work environment on the basis of sex.

According to Schiano, who was dating a coworker, Tintweiss told her if she wanted a raise she was “sleeping with the wrong employee,” and repeated the phrase several times over a five month period.   In addition, Schiano claimed Tintweiss inappropriately touched her during an office Christmas party and asked to accompany her to her hotel room.   She also said the vice president approached her from behind on several occasions, leaned into her and placed his hands on her back, neck or shoulders.

Complaints to her supervisor went unaddressed until he asked her to go directly to the company president.   Schiano decided that she was uncomfortable with that and resigned from the company.

She brought federal and state claims of a hostile work environment and retaliation to district court in New York.   The district court granted summary judgment on all claims in favor of the employer.   The appellate court, while upholding the district court decision on her retaliation claims, reversed the decision on her hostile work environment claims and remanded them to a lower court for jury trial.

The opinion in Schiano v. Quality Payroll Systems, Inc. is  here .