An ironworker subjected to name-calling, simulated sexual acts and repeated flashings by a supervisor on an all-male construction crew won a jury verdict in the amount of $200,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued his employer. The construction company appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the plaintiff in the case won an affirmation of the verdict in large part.
The ruling significantly expands the protections afforded to workers in the 5th Circuit who are repeatedly subjected to vulgar and offensive comments that are severe, persistent and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. The four judges who dissented addressed some of the major concerns about the ruling:
Justice E. Grady Jolly wrote a dissent saying, "vulgarities can cast turmoil in a strong stomach, but that does not mean that the laws of the United States have been violated, and it does not require Title VII and the EEOC to serve as federal enforcer of clean talk in a single sex workforce."
Judge Edith Jones wrote separately to say, "Vulgar speech is ubiquitous in today’s culture and is everywhere else protected from government diktat by the First Amendment …. Offensive speech may now inspire litigation that costs employers hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend [and] may forever stigmatize the ‘harasser’ whose principal crime was bad taste."
Whether other circuit courts will adopt a similar viewpoint about offensive speech, this case sets the stage for future precedent-setting rulings on the Supreme Court level.