A Louisiana federal appeals court on July 27 reversed a March 2011 ruling that awarded $301,000 to a former Boh Bros. Construction Co. employee who claimed that his superintendent sexually harassed him. The harassment allegedly occurred in 2010 during work on the I-10 Twin Span project crossing Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans.
The appeal ruling states that the superintendent’s behavior was not indicative of sexual harassment, “nor is it the business of the federal courts generally to clean up the language and conduct of construction sites.” The original ruling found Boh Bros. liable for the stress experienced by ironworker Kerry Woods as a result of the harassment, but did not find that Boh Bros. had engaged in retaliation against Woods when relocating him to a different jobsite after he reported the harassment to the superintendent’s supervisor.
A Boh Bros. spokeswoman says the company disciplined superintendent Charles Wolfe for his behavior, and that training on appropriate behavior for all workers is underway.
The spokeswoman says Boh Bros. agrees with the appeals court judges that “this conduct never bordered on sexual harassment,” but adds that Boh Bros. was embarrassed by the conduct and that such treatment “will not be tolerated.”
The case, which was originally filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, follows a trend of increasing federal same-sex harassment lawsuits, although they are still relatively rare. The appellate court’s ruling refused to make a determination on whether the category of harassment, referred to as “sex stereotyping,” could ever be considered same-sex harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In their ruling, the three-judge panel noted that although the EEOC case said that Wolfe harassed Woods with “raw homophobic epithets and lewd gestures,” there is no “claim of evidence that either Woods or Wolfe is homosexual of effeminate. There is plenty of evidence that Wolfe is a world-class trash talker and the master of vulgarity in an environment where these characteristics abound.”
“And there is Wolfe’s accusation that Woods was girlish because Woods used ‘Wet Ones’ when he went to the toilet,” the judges wrote. “But that seems to be about all of the non-manly characteristics of which Woods was accused.”
“There is no question, however, that Woods was the primary and constant victim of Wolfe’s offensive abuse and harassment,” the judges wrote. The harassment includes Wolfe calling woods “faggot” and “princess” and approaching Woods from behind to simulate having sex with him as Woods bent over to perform his duties.