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Short Term Employment Does Not Preclude Harassment Claim

Alisha Munoz worked for Adventure Lands of America, Inc. (Adventure) for just one summer at its amusement park in Altoona. She started off operating rides but then transferred to the foods department, serving food and waiting on customers because of her medical condition. The condition caused her to lose consciousness without warning. She alleged almost daily bullying and harassment from her supervisors. She testified one of her supervisors asked her, “why the hell [are you] even working with restrictions like that?” Another supervisor purportedly said Munoz “need[ed] to work less hours because [she was] being a bitch.” Yet another supervisor commented on the bruising Munoz had on her face, likely caused by falling because of her condition, and asked if Munoz’s husband beat her. Munoz responded by denying it, and the supervisor said, “Because that’s what Hispanics do. They beat their bitches.” There were additional comments along the same vein. Munoz reported some of these incidents to the department director but did not receive much of a response. A group email revealed the director referred to Munoz as “Alisha the Bruised.” Three supervisors made fun of her repeatedly because of her frequent bathroom use. Munoz filed suit in Iowa state court alleging various claims of discrimination, including a hostile work environment based on her disability.

The Iowa Court of Appeals considered Munoz’s case on appeal from the granting of a summary judgment motion. Although Munoz pursued her claims under state law, the Iowa appellate court relied significantly upon federal law in reaching its decision. To prevail on her hostile work environment claim, Munoz must show that “a reasonable person would also find the conduct to be abusive or hostile.” While the standard for establishing a hostile work environment is high, according to the court, the short period of time she was employed would be just one factor and did not preclude her claim. The court noted that whether the harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a legally actionable hostile work environment is a question of fact for the jury. Munoz alleged sufficient incidents to reach the jury on the question of a hostile work environment. Moreover, much of the conduct alleged was perpetrated by supervisors with direct authority over Munoz, and she presented evidence that she was traumatized by the harassment.