When Bullying Becomes A Case of Sexual Harassment

Don’t get too comfortable too quickly when there is bullying in your workplace.

I’ve often gotten the impression that companies can relax when the bully doesn’t appear to be intending to discriminate against women (or men for that matter).

What seems to often be assumed is that as long as the manager or supervisor is “just” generally abusive, profane, or vile, a sexual harassment charge won’t stick. Now, AHI Publications provides information about a case that suggests companies need to be more careful.

In this case, the manager just seemed (on the surface) to be a nasty, rude, and mean person. He apparently screamed and yelled a lot at employees, would turn colors as he yelled, and employees even claimed they could feel his spit when he shouted. He even shook his fist at employees and scared them a lot!

Although the sexual harassment suit was rejected at the district court, the 9th Circuit court ruled that:

“Harassing conduct does not have to be motivated by lust or blatant misogyny to be illegal sex discrimination.

In fact, the district court noted that it used an:

alternative motivational theory in which an abusive bully takes advantage of a traditionally female workplace because he is more comfortable when bullying women than when bullying men.

Companies: Don’t take it for granted that bullying, overly rude, and obnoxious behavior will avoid a label of sexual harassment.

Prevent that kind of behavior in the workplace and avoid expensive lawsuits and out-of-court settlements!

Read here for more details on non-sexual harassment.


  1. The underlying theory here is not new, but certainly needs to be understood.

    Sexual harassment is but a form of sex (gender) discrimination. The conduct need not be sexual in nature, but must disadvantage one sex more than the other.

    Therefore, a bullying manager whose conduct can be characterized as “harassment” is not committing unlawful discrimination as long as he or she practices “equal opportunity” in selection of targets.

    On the other hand, harassing conduct that is not sexual in nature (i.e., no sexual advances, rude discussions of sexual activity, etc.) may still be unlawful sex discrimination if targeted at one gender and sufficiently severe and pervasive.

    What is somewhat novel in this case is:

    “The court noted that it was not necessary for the women to prove that their boss intended to discriminate against them or to target them based on gender. ‘Title VII is aimed at the consequences or effects of an employment practice and not at the…motivation of co-workers or employers.'”

    The effects were quite different based on gender: “female employees cried, became panicked, felt physically threatened, avoided contact with the boss, called the police, and even resigned. . . . No evidence suggested that any male employee had anywhere near the same severity of reactions to the boss’s conduct; in fact, it wasn’t uncommon for them to hang out with the boss in his office, talking and laughing.”

  2. Mr. Anaheim

    I had a store manager that is/was a jerk. I need legal assistance to file and prosecute a lawsuit in California for violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Specifically for not dealing with the “interactive process” after asking for a reasonable accommodation and he going straight to termination.

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