Some seemingly harmless words and phrases could possibly be a metaphor for sex, especially if body language or a certain tone of voice is used. Californians should understand that context plays a large role in whether or not a comment could be construed as sexual harassment. A court takes this into consideration when making decisions in these cases.
In one case, a man was fired after a human resources department received an anonymous email that showed two pictures of him exposing himself on company property. A sexual harassment investigation was conducted, and employees claimed the person in the photograph was indeed that man, and it wasn’t the first time he had acted offensively. After his firing, he claimed it was unlawful retaliation because he didn’t accept an HR manager’s unwanted sexual advances. He described instances of her requests for him to personally bring her “hot cornbread.”
The court looked into the context of the hot cornbread requests. Since it was not uncommon for workers to ask for minor favors, and the man never actually delivered the cornbread himself, a reasonable jury could not infer that the event was severe enough for a sexual harassment lawsuit, and it was dismissed at the summary judgment stage. This stage is when an employee only needs to allege their supervisor acted in a way that a reasonable jury could believe to be harassment.
If someone has experienced workplace sexual harassment, then an experienced attorney could help. The attorney could compile the harassment incidences into a legal document and submit them to a court. They could depose witnesses on the person’s behalf and help the victim receive the compensation they may due, such as lost wages and emotional distress.
Source: HR BLR, “Is ‘hot cornbread’ comment sexual harassment?,” Connor Beatty, Dec. 21, 2015