Tammy Schweitzer was an investigator with the Ventura County, California District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation. Eleven months into the job, Schweitzer resigned and sued the County, claiming she was the victim of sexual harassment (among other things). When a trial court ruled in the County’s favor and dismissed Schweitzer’s lawsuit, the case wound up in the California Court of Appeals.
The Court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit. The Court began by laying the legal framework for a sexual harassment case: “A hostile work environment sexual harassment claim requires an employee to show she was subjected to sexual advances, conduct, or comments that were (1) unwelcome, (2) because of sex, and (3) sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive work environment. A workplace may give rise to liability when it is permeated with discriminatory sex-based intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. This means a plaintiff in a sexual harassment suit must show the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually constituted discrimination.”
It was this difficult standard that the Court found Schweitzer failed to meet. The Court held that “the alleged incidents of sexual harassment cited by Schweitzer are not sufficiently severe or pervasive as a matter of law. The words ‘cutesy,’ ‘smart girl’ and ‘crazy woman with a gun’ are not the type of words that create a hostile work environment. At most, they demonstrate attempts, perhaps ill-conceived attempts, at humor, on the part of Schweitzer’s supervisors. The incidents involving shoulder rubbing on two occasions by one supervisor and a compliment as to the perfume she was wearing by another supervisor were isolated incidents, lasting a few seconds, and not the type of conduct that creates a hostile work environment. The overwhelming evidence shows that they and other Bureau employees sought to give her the extra help she obviously needed to overcome her many performance problems. This scrutiny and attention is not harassment; instead, they were merely performing their jobs as supervisors to train and mentor a probationary employee.”
Schweitzer v. County of Ventura, 2009 WL 4758588 (Cal. App. 2009).
This article appears in the February 2010 issue