Sexual Orientation-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment

In Schlegel v. Finney County, Kansas, Board of Commissioners, No. 21-1288-JAR-KGG, 2023 WL 2428900 (D.Kan. March 9, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s sexual orientation-based hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

Here, Plaintiff points to no single incident that was sufficiently severe to satisfy the severity element of a hostile work environment claim on its own. Instead, Plaintiff seems to argue that in consideration of all the relevant conduct—all three categories described above—a reasonable jury could conclude that she was subjected to a severe and pervasive environment of hostility because of her sexual orientation. The Court agrees.

As to pervasiveness, Plaintiff alleges that the various discriminatory incidents were happening repeatedly, and that derogatory comments about lesbians were made at least monthly. The first incident Plaintiff points to in support of her hostile work environment claim occurred in 2012. Reading these facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, this means that she suffered harassment at the County for nearly ten years. Further, as to severity, Plaintiff alleges that she had to seek psychological counseling—even before her employment was terminated—because she had become so distraught over her treatment at work. The Court notes that “[t]he severity and pervasiveness evaluation is particularly unsuited for summary judgment because it is quintessentially a question of fact.”

Based on this, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could conclude that defendant’s conduct was, objectively and subjectively, “sufficiently severe and pervasive.”

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