It's better to be civil than sorry . . .
Posted at Arkansas Employment Law by Jewel Bennett on 10/05/2009

employment lawyer recommends proceeding with caution on management behaviorIn Anderson v. Family Dollar Stores of Arkansas, Inc., the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals closely followed the US Supreme Court's direction that Title VII is not a "general civility code for the American workplace."   Employers can take comfort in the high standard courts have set regarding bad behavior in the workplace, but a company that wants to remain an employer of choice will hold their management team to a much higher standard.   Bottom line, if one of your managers is a jerk, you should demand a change in behavior or show him or her the door.

The plaintiff in Family Dollar Stores started work as a manager trainee for Family Dollar. She was fired after her first day. She complained to HR and met with the district manager. During her meeting, plaintiff claims that the district manager talked about very personal things, such as her hair, eyes, and marital status. Plaintiff was rehired and placed in a five-week training program. During the district manager's contact with plaintiff, which was once a week for approximately an hour, plaintiff claims that the district manager was physically inappropriate towards her and insinuated that he could control her future in the company.  

At the end of her training period, plaintiff was assigned to a store as manager. During the first week she made phone calls to the district manager for assistance. At one time, the district manager, who was in Florida at the time, told plaintiff that he felt she should be with him.  Another time, the plaintiff claims that the district manager called her "baby doll."

Several months after plaintiff was hired, the district manager came to the store and plaintiff addressed all of her problems with her employees. She also told him they needed to prepare the appropriate paperwork for her back pain because she was forced to unload the truck by herself.  The district manager's demeanor worsened and he grabbed plaintiff and told her he thought she was no longer willing to be a team player.  He then fired plaintiff.

Plaintiff did not report any of the harassment to HR and even though she wrote an email to HR after her termination, she did not include the sexual harassment. She first mentioned the sexual harassment in her EEOC complaint. The district court granted Family Dollar's summary judgment, finding that plaintiff's allegations were not so severe as to alter a term, condition, or privilege of her employment. The Court of Appeals agreed. The Court stated that although White's conduct was ungentlemanly and inappropriate, Title VII is not a "general civility code for the American workplace."

Sure, the district manager's conduct was not harassment under Title VII, but to create a more productive work environment, employers should not allow this type of conduct in their workplace.  It is much easier to be civil than sorry.