Employee Who Presented Evidence Of Hostile Work Environment And Discrimination May Proceed With Lawsuit


In McGinest v. GTE Service Corp. (2004 Daily Journal, D.A.R. 3152, 9th Cir. (Cal), Mar. 11, 2004), the United States Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether an employee presented sufficient evidence of hostile work environment and discrimination to proceed with his lawsuit against his employer.


Employee, George McGinest, a 23-year, African-American employee of Employer, GTE Service Corporation, sued Employer for discrimination. Employee alleged a hostile work environment existed and Employer failed to adequately remedy it; Employer discriminated against him based on race when it refused to promote him; and Employer retaliated against him for filing an EEOC claim. The federal district court ruled that Employee did not present enough evidence to warrant a trial and Employee appealed.

Appellate Court Decision

The Hostile Work Environment Claim. A hostile work environment is created where harassment is sufficiently severe and pervasive that it alters the conditions of employment and creates an abusive working environment. Here, viewing the evidence from the perspective of a reasonable person belonging to the African-American race, the Court of Appeals found enough evidence to allow the employee to take his case to trial. Employee presented evidence that he was injured in an automobile accident because the company’s mechanic would not replace the tires on Employee’s company car because Employee is black. He also submitted evidence that he was subjected to insults by co-employees, as well as supervisors, prevented from collecting overtime pay, and inhibited from fully performing his job, all because of his race. Moreover, he was regularly exposed to racist graffiti, racial insults, and taunts. The fact that some of the comments were directed at other black employees and even against Employee’s white friend did not defeat the relevancy of Employee’s evidence.

The Court also determined that Employee presented enough evidence to show the inadequacy of response to the harassment. For example, Employer only responded to one act of graffiti by spray painting over it, did nothing to try to ensure it would not happen again, and even tacitly condoned it. Furthermore, Employer did not respond to some of the racial comments until after Employee had filed an EEOC claim.

Discrimination Claim for Failure to Promote. Employer denied Employee a promotion for which he was qualified, allegedly because of a hiring freeze. To show that the hiring freeze was merely a pretext for discrimination, Employee noted the absence of any documentation showing the existence of a hiring freeze or financial difficulties leading to the freeze. Furthermore, there were few black supervisors and managers in the workplace. This circumstantial evidence was enough to show a genuine factual issue with regard to discriminatory intent.

Retaliation Claim. Here, Employee failed to present evidence that Employer failed to promote him because of his EEOC claim. Because the two events were separated by a year and a half, the timing alone did not establish a connection.

The Court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings on the hostile work environment and discrimination claims, but not on the retaliation claim.

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