In Miceli v. Lakeland Automotive Corporation, the Appellate Division found that a former female employee failed to establish that the conditions of her work environment were sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment because her manager treated all employees rudely and reprimanded her co-worker for his inappropriate behavior toward the employee.
In August 2006, Jo Miceli became Lakeland Automotive Corporation’s (“Lakeland’s”) only female salesperson. During her employment, Miceli and a male co-worker had several disagreements during which he made several inappropriate and threatening comments. These comments included that Miceli was “going to get hers”; that her “day was coming’; and “Kiss my ass . . . I’ll act like an animal and show you how animals act, so you better be very afraid.” Miceli reported each incident to her manager, and the manager warned the co-worker that he risked termination if he continued to threaten her. Although the manager responded to each of Miceli’s complaints, she nevertheless felt the manager was “very abusive.” In June 2007, Miceli voluntarily resigned.
In June 2009, Miceli sued Lakeland alleging she was subject to a hostile work environment on the basis of her gender in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The trial court granted Lakeland’s motion for summary judgment finding that Miceli failed to demonstrate that her “blanket assertions” and alleged conflicts with her manager and co-worker were motivated by gender. The Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that “[a]lthough the sales manager acted rudely to everyone, and the co-worker remarked ‘kiss my ass’ and ‘I’ll act like an animal,’ under the totality of the circumstances and applying the reasonableness standard . . . this conduct was not so sufficiently severe or pervasive that a reasonable woman would conclude the workplace conditions were altered to create a hostile work environment.”
Although employers should not tolerate inappropriate and abrasive language in the workplace, this case illustrates that a hostile work environment claim may not survive unless a reasonable woman would find the conduct sufficiently severe or pervasive as to constitute a hostile work environment. This case also illustrates that an employer can help to protect itself from liability by ensuring gender neutral discipline and addressing each inappropriate encounter between employees.