A recent decision from a Pennsylvania federal district court provides an important reminder that hostile work environment claims can arise from same-sex harassment based on gender stereotypes. In Barrett v. Pennsylvania Steele, a male operations specialist sued his employer claiming male coworkers sexually harassed him because he did not fit their male stereotype of being sexually explicit and crude. The harassment included overt verbal attacks, sexually explicit commentary and jokes, and physical threats. After Barrett complained, the conduct reportedly escalated, resulting in several workplace incidents. Barrett alleges the employer terminated him “for ‘being the common denominator’ in many workplace incidents” which he attributed to the harassment.
The Court rejected the employer’s bid to dismiss the action. Among other things, the court found Barrett sufficiently stated facts showing male coworkers considered cursing and crude behavior to be normal and stereotypical male behavior, and Barrett’s “lack of perceived maleness” motivated their conduct toward him. Further, Barrett’s allegations showed that management knew of the behavior and failed to adequately address it, culminating in Barrett’s termination.