Title VII Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim Survives Dismissal; Allegations Include Remarks About Sexual Orientation

In Wilson et al v. City of Greenville, Mississippi et al, No. 4:22CV64-GHD-DAS, 2023 WL 7021295 (N.D.Miss. Oct. 25, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings as to plaintiffs’ claims of hostile work environment based on sex and sexual orientation asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After summarizing the black-letter law, the court applied it to the facts as follows:

When reviewing the complaint, the Court notes several instances of alleged sexual harassment based on Plaintiff Wilson’s sex and sexual orientation. Plaintiff Wilson alleges that there were multiple instances where Defendant Banks made sexually charged comments toward him regarding his attractiveness and commented about how they would be having sex if Plaintiff Wilson was not married. Plaintiff Wilson further states that these comments would come from Defendant Banks not only at work but that Banks would also call and harass him. Plaintiff Wilson also states that more comments were also made, both at work, in public, and in private, about his rumored sexual orientation and an alleged homosexual relationship with Plaintiff Merchant. The Court finds that Plaintiff Wilson has sufficiently alleged that he was subject to unwelcome harassment based on his sex or sexual orientation.

Plaintiff Merchant has also sufficiently alleged a sufficiently offensive work environment. The Complaint states that Plaintiff Merchant’s sexual orientation was questioned multiple times by Defendant Banks and that Defendant Banks allegedly discussed Merchant’s sexual orientation on numerous occasions, both in and out of the presence of Plaintiff Merchant. The Court need not conduct a summary judgment analysis at this stage concerning the severity of the alleged sexual orientation harassment of Plaintiff Merchant, thus Plaintiff Merchant at this state of proceedings has sufficiently alleged a sufficiently severe work environment.

The Court will next address the fourth element, that the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of [their] employment, as to both Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs allege that Plaintiff Wilson was told that “getting rid of Merchant” would allow Plaintiff Wilson to be safe and keep his employment. After multiple instances of reporting the sexual orientation harassment, the Complaint alleges that both Plaintiffs’ jobs were in jeopardy as they were told that Defendant Banks was “coming hard for [Wilson] and Merchant.” With the sexual orientation of both Plaintiffs continuously coming into question at their job, Plaintiff Wilson was put in the position to either let both he and Merchant potentially lose their jobs or fire Merchant to save his own job. Plaintiff Wilson refused to terminate Plaintiff Merchant, and later both Plaintiffs filed EEOC Charges asserting broadly both sex and sexual orientation harassment. Both Plaintiffs allege they were soon after either terminated or prevented from returning to their position, and given the Plaintiffs’ burden of establishing a plausible claim at this stage, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the harassment affected a term, condition, or privilege of their employment.

While the fifth element, that the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt action, is not contested, the Court acknowledges that the Complaint offers multiple instances of the City of Greenville being notified of the alleged sexual and/or sexual orientation harassment. Further, Plaintiffs state that not only was the City of Greenville aware of the harassment, but that the City refused to take any action to stop the harassment or prevent further harassment.

Based on this, the court held that denial of defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings as to plaintiffs’ claims of Title VII hostile work environment sexual harassment.

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