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First Circuit Court Focuses on Totality of Circumstances for Hostile Work Environment

In Roy v. Correct Care Solutions (CCS), Tara Roy was a nurse working for CCS at a prison run by the Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC). She was harassed by the MDOC prison guards. She alleged that these guards made sex-based remarks about her being blonde, made derogatory jokes and comments, stated that a woman’s “job is to be at home” and one guard sent sexually explicit texts. The other harassment she was subjected to was less overtly sexual. The guards withheld assistance for her, leaving her alone with inmates and they refused to bring sick inmates to the clinic. When she protested, the guards responded angrily, one sending her private messages over Facebook criticizing her work. When Roy filed formal complaints with both CCS and MDOC, the harassment allegedly escalated and they retaliated against her by filing complaints about her “lack of cooperation.” In the end, MDOC revoked her security clearance and CCS fired her rather than find her a new position.
A federal district court dismissed her case for failing to meet the severe or pervasive standard required for sexual harassment. The First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal holding that Roy had sufficient evidence to show that sex was at least a factor in the hostile work environment. It was shown through the derogatory comments about women and her blond hair, the rumors about her having sex, and the sexual text messages. A jury could also find that leaving her alone with inmates, ignoring her and putting her at risk could also be evidence of a discriminatory hostile work environment. The court said,

“Responding disrespectfully or dismissively to women’s requests, complaining about women’s performance, and ignoring or ostracizing women are paradigmatic ways to communicate to women that they are less worthy than or less welcome in the workplace.”

The appellate court noted that Facebook messages could not be disregarded simply because they occurred outside of work when it was about workplace conduct and were sent by an officer from her workplace. Leaving Roy alone with inmates as a practice could be severe enough by itself to create a hostile work environment, according to the court. With regard to CCS, it was found not to have done everything it could to protect Roy even though the company did not manage the worksite or the guards.