Employer Legally Obligated Only to Stop Co-worker Harassment, Not More


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the employee could not sustain a hostile environment harassment claim where the employer had effectively stopped the co-worker harassment, and the employer was not required to do more than that.

Under Title VII, employers will be liable for co-worker harassment only where it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take action reasonably calculated to stop it. In Bazemore v. Best Buy, an employee asserted a hostile work environment claim based on a co-worker’s racially and sexually charged joke comparing Brazil nuts to a black woman’s breasts. The court, however, found that the harassment had stopped after the employer issued a final warning to the offending co-worker. It rejected the employee’s contentions that the company’s response was inadequate because the company could have done more – such as by having the General Manager meet with her, by having an all-staff meeting to remind employees about Company policy, or by firing the offending co-worker. The Fourth Circuit noted that “Title VII does not prescribe specific action for an employer to take in response to racial or sexual harassment, or require that the harasser be fired …[I]t is enough for an employer to take action ‘reasonably calculated’ to stop the harassment.”