Judge Dismisses Harassment Claims As Non-Discrimination

May 23, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Discrimination claims made by a white, Jewish, blonde woman from Moldavia are little more than her own judgments about the bigoted intent of her boss.

US District Judge Curtis Joyner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a Title VII suit brought by Brigitte Shramban, finding that while the comments made by her boss, Joe Kushnerick, were offensive, there was not sufficient proof that the harassment was motivated by gender, race, religion or national origin, according to a report byThe Legal Intelligencer.

Further, Joyner dismissed arguments made by Shramban that being blonde is a protected group under Title VII.   This claim stemmed from Kushnerick’s comments about her hair color that Shramban alleges were sexist and sexual.

Personal, Maybe; Hostile, No

In the suit, Shramban alleged that Kushnerick’s harassment was ethnic, sexist, sexual and religious. Among the inappropriate actions Shramban alleged her boss committed:

  • mimicking her accent, remarking that she did things in a “Russian” or “russki” way
  • asking numerous questions about her Jewish religion, such as asking whether there are Catholics in her native Moldavia, whether she celebrated Hanukkah, and whether she intended to work on the Jewish New Year
  • inquiring about her boyfriend; complimenting her on dresses or outfits she wore; and looking into her eyes and saying that if she had any questions, she could always come to him
  • on two occasions, that he touched her hand when he would take a report from her.

Joyner said the alleged comments “may be considered too personal in the professional working context as well as immature teasing or taunting, however, they do not rise to a level that constitutes a hostile work environment.”   Further, the harassment claims fell short of stating a prima facie case under Title VII which calls for evidence of “intentional discrimination” that was “pervasive and regular” and motivated by the plaintiff’s membership in a protected group, Joyner wrote.

In this case, Shramban was unable to demonstrate she was the victim of “intentional discrimination,” Joyner found, noting that the US Supreme Court has instructed that “simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment.”

Also, even though the judge found that Shramban had evidence that she was “detrimentally affected” by Kushnerick’s behavior, he concluded that a reasonable worker would not have been. Joyner said there was evidence that Shramban was a “hypersensitive employee” and that “a reasonable person in a similar position would not find the alleged comments objectively hostile.”

The case is Shramban v. Aetna Inc .