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Seventh Circuit Supports a “Thick Skin” In the Working Environment

Amy Swyear worked as a sales representative for Fare Foods Corporation. She alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. This environment was alleged to have been created through a variety of incidents. Employees and customers were referred to by offensive and vulgar nicknames, co-workers commented on how an employee dressed inappropriately, the staff explicitly discussed the sexual activities of a sales representative and disparaged the women with whom he associated. That same sales representative made Ms. Swyear uncomfortable during the course of one business trip by touching her, standing in close proximity, asking her to skinny dip, and entering into her hotel room. Ms. Swyear did report the behavior from the business trip. It was investigated and confirmed but it was found that no further action was warranted. After Ms. Swyear was terminated for performance reasons, she brought suit alleging sexual harassment and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.
In reviewing the sexual harassment claim, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals set forth the basics. For sexual harassment to be actionable against co-workers is a “high bar.” Because Ms. Swyear acknowledged that she always felt in control at her workplace, she was unable to show she was adversely affected by it. The court also found that the conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, asserting that “employees are generally mature individuals with the thick skin that comes from living in the modern world.”

The court noted that while the working environment alleged by Ms. Swyear was at times “inappropriate and offensive,” it did not rise to the level of that reasonable person would find it intolerable. The conduct was not directed towards Swyear nor was it used to physically threaten or humiliate her.