Is Professor's 'Hi, Sweetie' Comment Sexual Harassment

Diversity and inclusion sensitivity caused a university to overreact by firing chin-chucking professor for harassment.A state appeals court ruled that a university did not have the foundation to fire a tenured male professor for sexual harassment. He had approached his department chair in the lounge area, said “Hi, sweetie,” and “chucked” her chin. The department chair filed a sexual-harassment complaint. The professor was fired under the university’s zero-tolerance policy for harassment. He filed state and federal due-process and contract claims. The court found that there appeared to be a rush to judgment and overreaction. There was no prior warning to the professor regarding his behavior being unwelcome or violating the sexual-harassment rules. The department chair claimed that the professor should have known his behavior was unwelcome because of her “stony silence” reaction on a prior chin-chuck incident. The court found this insufficient to give fair warning. The incident itself could hardly be characterized as sexual harassment under any legal definition of that term. Haegert v. U. of Evansville (Ind. Ct. App., 2011).For more on sexual harassment, read Things NEVER to Say to Women Executives.

Starbucks failed to accommodate server with dwarfism. A job applicant had short height because of the condition of dwarfism. A Starbucks store refused to place her in a barista job. She claimed she could do the job using a stool. However, the management did not even try this accommodation. It concluded, without facts, that she would “pose a danger to customers and employees.” When the ADA case was filed, Starbucks quickly settled for $75,000 and agreed to provide training on proper ADA procedures to managers. The EEOC praised Starbucks for its prompt resolution of the issue. EEOC v. Starbucks Coffee Co. (W.D. Tex., 2011).

Employee’s clothing too modest for Catholic facility. A non-Catholic was hired to work in a nursing home operated by the Catholic Church. Because of her own Church of the Brethren beliefs, the employee wore very modest clothing, including long dresses, long sleeves and a hair cover. The nursing director informed the employee that her garb made her stand out in a way that bothered some residents and did not fit into the operation or its mission. When the employee insisted her attire was a function of her faith and that she would not modify the clothing, she was fired. She sued for religious discrimination. The court granted judgment to the nursing home based upon the First Amendment and the Title VII deference to religious organizations. The decision was based on what was appropriate for a Catholic service environment. A religious-based employer is not required to accommodate the religious practices of other faith employees when they even minimally conflict with the organization’s views of what is or is not a proper environment for its own faith. Kennedy v. St. Joseph Ministries, Inc. (4th Cir., 2011).For best practices on religious inclusion, read Starting Religious Resource Groups.

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