What’s that, you say? A corporation alleging hostile work environment on the basis of race and gender?
Yes. It seems that two white women who own a pressure-washing service corporation known as Allstate Sweeping sued the Denver government which gave them a contract (and terminated it) as well as the African-American man who was assigned to monitor it.
They contended the individual defendant “was unpleasant to work for; was ‘rude all the time’ … ‘pushy,’ and ‘bossy’ to … employees … ‘babys[at]’ … and ‘nitpick[ed]’ whatever tasks they were doing. … According to [company] witnesses, on several occasions [defendant] screamed at … employees and called them “stupid” … he told some … employees, who were white women, that because they were ‘a little overweight’ they probably ‘couldn’t move as fast as a man could” … and he spoke to [the company’s] owners in a ‘demeaning” way, as if they were ‘child[ren]’ rather than ‘equal adults’ … even acting at meetings as if [they] were not in the room.”
The Court characterized their claim as a “making-the-owners-miserable claim” couched as a hostile work environment claim.
What interests us about this case is the Court’s rejection of the argument that there is a hostile work environment claim based on gender or race for “allegedly making Allstate’s owners miserable.” The Court assumed for the sake of argument (but without deciding) that a hostile-work environment claim is properly raised under the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution, or section 1981 of the old post-Civil War civil rights laws, which forbids all intentional racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of private or public contracts (plaintiff did not allege a Title VII claim).
However, the Court stated that as to whether hostile work environment can be raised by a corporation:
“Allstate cites to no cases, nor can we find any, holding that the “harassment endured by the principals of an artificial entity can give rise to a racial- or gender-discrimination claim on behalf of the entity itself, absent independent injury to the entity. Indeed, it is not clear to us that an artificial entity could ever prevail on a hostile-work-environment claim. Such a claim has a subjective, as well as an objective, component; there must be proof that “the plaintiff was offended by the work environment”. … Being offended presupposes feelings or thoughts that an artificial entity (as opposed to its employees or owners) cannot experience.”
An interesting case – especially since the appeals court remanded the case back to the lower court on Allstate’s claim that the individual defendant discriminated against it by taking actions (motivated by racial and gender animus) that caused it to lose money under the contract.