Not Music to Our Ears: Music Can Create a Hostile Work Environment

Stokes Wagner

In a recent case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that employees may be able to support a hostile work environment claim by presenting evidence of regular exposure to violent, misogynistic music, even when the music’s message is not directed to a particular individual, but is broadly offensive to both men and women.

In this case, Sharp v. S&S Activewear, plaintiffs were eight former employees-seven women and one man of a manufacturer who worked at a large warehouse in Reno, Nevada. The former employees claimed that their employer allowed managers and employees to play “sexually graphic” and “violently misogynistic” music throughout the warehouse routinely. This music was impossible to escape. The two examples of songs that were discussed were by Too $hort and Eminem, which they held contained highly offensive lyrics that glorified prostitution and depicted extreme violence against women. The plaintiffs claimed that they had made numerous complaints about the music, but that management defended the music. According to the court’s ruling, at least four other circuits (Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh) have ruled that “sights and sounds that pervade the work environment may constitute sex discrimination under Title VII.”

This decision raises the bar on how far employers must go to monitor the sounds heard by their employees at work. There are now legal risks associated with allowing certain music to be played in the workplace. Therefore, it’s important that employers implement effective music policies and prioritize diversity and inclusion to prevent potential issues. Also, employers should actively monitor music being played by employees in the workplace and should respond promptly to complaints.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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