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“Blue Collar” Workplace Does Not Justify Hostile Work Environment

With a workplace that was over 90% male and predominantly manual labor, SPS Technologies put forth a “blue collar” defense to evade potential liability for a sexually offensive and hostile work environment. A federal district court in Pennsylvania refused to absolve SPS on that basis.

Judith Vollmar was employed by SPS for over 13 years. During her employment, she was subjected to sexist comments on a daily basis such as being referred to as a “bitch,” and being told that she did not know what she was doing because she was woman. Male co-workers were alleged to have made lewd comments about her body and one male employee repeatedly stared at her in a sexual and aggressive manner. The facility also had lewd and/or gender based materials constantly lying around, including pornographic magazines and signs on the refrigerator referencing sexist and suggestive subject matter. Ms. Vollmer found a small box with a toy version of female body parts along with a sexually suggestive note.

Title VII plaintiffs must show that a reasonable person would find the work environment sexually offensive and hostile. As one of its arguments to rebut sexual harassment, SPS claimed that a reasonable person in Ms. Vollmar’s position would not have been detrimentally impacted. SPS’ argument was based on its theory that SPS was a “blue collar” workplace and that such behavior was common and to be expected. Where questionable conduct has been rampant and indiscriminate among all employees, it can be more challenging to prove hostile work environment. However, Ms. Vollmar was only one of a few female employees subjected to this behavior in a male-dominated work environment. The district court refused to give the “blue collar” working environment a “pass,” ruling that it “does not absolve an employer of fostering a workplace hostile for female employees.”