In a recent case decided in the Oregon District Court, Judge Michael Mosman looked at the standards for hostile environment liability in a religious discrimination case. The plaintiff alleged that she was subject to a hostile work environment because of her religion. The defendant employer sought summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff did not have facts to establish that she was subject to a hostile environment. Initially, Judge Mosman explained that if conduct occurs “because of” an employee’s protected status, even if the person engaging in the conduct does not intend hostility or even know that the conduct may be perceived as hostile, the conduct is relevant to whether the employee experienced a hostile environment.
Judge Mosman also discussed the different comments alleged to be evidence of a hostile environment and how a jury might evaluate those comments. For example, separating profanity that uses “God” or “Jesus Christ” as part of a curse, from a direct statement that an employee is a “wacko” because of their Christian faith. The Judge went on to hold that a jury would have to decide whether the alleged comments were made “because of” the plaintiff’s religion and whether the comments were sufficiently severe and pervasive to create a hostile environment. Griffin v. City of Portland, http://www.sussmanshank.com//files/Griffin%20v.%20City%20of%20Portland%20(01733699).pdf
At this time, it is not known whether the City of Portland will appeal. In the interim, Griffin suggests that it will be very difficult for employers to obtain summary judgment on claims for hostile environment in the context of religious discrimination in federal court in Oregon.