‘Bitch’ Comments Do Not Establish Hostile Work Environment

One area of employment law that has dramatically changed is that of sexual harassment. Owing largely to a series of Supreme Court decisions, what once might be easily accepted as sexually harassing conduct now no longer supports a lawsuit.

And so it was with the case of Barbara Davis, a police officer with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Davis brought a sexual harassment lawsuit, and pointed to the conduct of three fellow police officers: James Pearlingi, Richard Cavallaro, and Dave Szlachta.

Davis claimed that Pearlingi once remarked about her, “That dumb bitch is going to get herself shot,” apparently in reference to the fact that Davis was holding an umbrella in her “shooting hand.” Approximately three years later, Davis was transferred into SEPTA’s K-9 Unit, where she was only female officer. Davis alleged that fellow K-9 officer Szlachta made at least one telephone call to her while she was in Texas for a police training exercise, and made sexually suggestive comments insinuating he wanted to be her “friend.” Davis claimed that Szlachta stated that he was “hung like a caterpillar,” and that once, while trying to unlock a padlock. Szlachta said in a sexually suggestive voice, “Come on, what did you forget how to do this? You put it in and pull out.”

Davis also claimed that Officer Cavallaro referred to Davis as a “fucking bitch” during roll call in front of a group of officers. Davis was not present at the roll call meeting, nor did she actually hear Cavallaro make the comment.

A federal court found that, “as a matter of law, the comments are more appropriately characterized as isolated, offensive epithets. These statements constituted a disregard for the professionalism required of police officers. However, Title VII protects against intentional discrimination because of one’s sex. It does not protect against all insults or personal animosity in the workplace.

“Not all workplace conduct that may be described as harassment rises to the level of a hostile work environment. Simple teasing, offhanded comments and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) are not sufficient to sustain a hostile work environment claim. Rather, the conduct must be extreme to amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment.

“Even when viewed in the aggregate, as I am required to do, Davis has not set forth sufficient evidence to raise the inference that her employment was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or insult such that she experienced a change in the terms and conditions of her employment. The conduct does not rise to the level of being so serious such that it was severe, nor was it so regular such that it can be fairly characterized as pervasive.”

Davis v. SEPTA, 2016 WL 97922 (E.D. Pa. 2016).