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Pronoun Harassment Allegations Not Enough to Show Hostile Work Environment

Under Title VII, hostile work environment claims must demonstrate unwelcome conduct based on a protected status that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive work environment. A federal district court in Maryland did not find that Megan Milo, a transgender woman, was able to meet this standard.

Milo worked for CyberCore, a staffing agency that provides skilled personnel for government contractors. Milo worked as a senior software engineer on a contract managed by Northrop. When she was hired, she presented as male and transitioned to female during her employment. Before her transition, managers explained to the staff that Milo would be transitioning, that she should be treated with dignity and respect, and the pronouns “she” and “her” should be used when referring to Milo going forward. Milo alleged that one of her co-workers referred to her as “him” or “he” rather than her preferred pronouns. She claimed that her CyperCore supervisor told her that her skirt was too short. When Milo pointed to another employee with a short skirt, he responded “Well that doesn’t matter. She doesn’t work for me you do.” Milo further alleged that a coworker told Milo she “hated” transgender people because her ex-husband was transgender. An employee complained about Milo, stating he felt he was “walking on eggshells” because of her request to be referred to by different pronouns. Milo was placed on 30 days of probation as a result of that complaint. Subsequently, Milo was also placed on a Performance Improvement Plan because her relationships with coworkers were causing her performance to be “subpar.” She was told to stop complaining. The extenuating circumstances were acknowledged in the review but Milo was expected to also extend the same understanding to her coworkers that she expected for herself. She was fired thereafter for her bad attitude.

The court found the incidents alleged by Milo to be “sporadic, and none were extremely serious.” While it was clear to the court that Milo perceived her working environment as hostile, it was not enough to present an objectively hostile work environment. Her claim for termination “because of sex, sex stereotyping, gender, gender expression, and gender identity” was similarly dismissed for a lack of evidence supporting her allegation that her transgender status was a motivating factor in her termination.