9th Circuit Rules Hugs May Create Hostile Work Environment Featured

  04 March 2017

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Zetwick v. County of Yolo, has ruled that unwelcome workplace hugs may create a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The case involved a female corrections officer who claimed that frequent hugs by her male superior made her uncomfortable at work. The employer and the co-defendant county sheriff argued that the hugs were innocuous and never involved sexual comments or touching. However, the appellate court held that a reasonable juror could conclude that differences in the sheriff’s hugging of men and women were not, as the defendants argued, just “genuine but innocuous differences in the ways men and women routinely interact with members of the same sex and the opposite sex.” The court also held that hugging can create a hostile or abusive workplace when it is unwelcome and pervasive, and summary judgment on a hostile work environment claim is appropriate only if the defendant’s conduct was neither severe nor pervasive enough to alter the conditions of the plaintiff’s employment. The panel remanded the case to the district court for a trial on the merits of the plaintiff’s federal and state sexual harassment claims and her state claim of failing to prevent sexual harassment. Read more here.