Sticks and Stones

Most people have heard this saying at some point in their life, probably as a child.  “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never harm you.”  With a quick internet search, references to this saying go back as early as to the 1800s.  The intent of the saying seems clear; to help someone soldier on in the face of hurtful words.  Yet, there are countless stories noting that, in fact, words can and do harm people.

The courts have grappled with this concept in the realm of harassment and hostile environment cases.  Are there words that are sufficiently hurtful as to create a claim for racial harassment or the creation of a racially hostile working environment?  What is the employer’s responsibility to stop such conduct? Continue reading

Transgender Employees Continue to be at the Center of Debate

On October 4, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a Memorandum withdrawing the 2014 Memorandum of former Attorney General Eric Holder concerning whether Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination included a prohibition on discrimination because of a person’s transgender status.  Attorney General Holder concluded it did.  Attorney General Sessions concludes it does not.  Interestingly, it is a reminder of the purpose of the three branches of government.  Congress as the legislative branch drafts our laws.  The Attorney General as part of the executive branch is responsible for enforcing those laws.  The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting our laws.

Remembering the purpose of each branch is important.  At any time, Congress can clarify whether Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s gender identity, transgender status, sexual orientation, etc.  Until it does so, members of the executive branch, like the Attorney General, will make decisions as to whether to pursue cases based upon that branch’s interpretation of the law.  But, ultimately, the law’s actual interpretation falls to the judicial branch. Continue reading