Sticks and Stones and Apparently Words Can Hurt You

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A recent decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal district which covers Georgia, Florida and Alabama) has suddenly made it far easier for plaintiff employees to assert unlawful harassment claims. At issue in Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. was whether pervasive vulgar language in the workplace can be enough to establish a prima facie case of harassment. Up to this point, in the 11th Circuit, a plaintiff was required to present evidence of physical touching in order to establish a claim of workplace harassment. Following the Reeves decision, “gender [and presumably other protected-class] specific” obscenities can fulfill the “based on” requirement of an unlawful harassment claim, even if the obscene language was not aimed at the plaintiff.

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