March 1998

Workplace Labor Update - Court Rejects White Males' Hostile Environment Claim– March 1998

2 min

The full panel of the federal court of appeals for Virginia and Maryland has now addressed the issue of whether a white male has standing to pursue a hostile environment claim based on the racial and sexual harassment of his co-workers. Childress v. City of Richmond, 1998 WL 12558 (4th Cir. Jan. 15, 1998). In Childress, seven white male police officers sued their employer, the City of Richmond, alleging that their immediate supervisor, a white male, created a hostile work environment by making disparaging remarks to and about female and black co-workers. The police officers also claimed that they were retaliated against when they complained about the supervisor’s remarks. The district court dismissed the police officers’ hostile environment claim on the ground that the alleged discrimination was directed at blacks and women, and not at the white male police officers themselves. As we reported in the October 1997 edition of the WLU, the Fourth Circuit initially reversed the district court’s decision. The Court ruled that the broad interpretation of the civil rights laws compelled the conclusion that the white male police officers had standing to assert hostile environment claims, even though they were not the targets of the discrimination. The Court also ruled that the police officers had, at the very least, produced evidence that raised genuine issues in connection with their retaliation claims. However, several weeks later, the Fourth Circuit withdrew its decision and agreed to consider the issue in a full panel review by the 12 judges on the court. On January 15, 1998, the Fourth Circuit issued its decision in the case. Because the twelve judges split evenly on the issues raised on the appeal, the district court’s decision dismissing the police officers’ claims was allowed to stand. Addressing standing under Title VII, three members of the Court commented that, "in order to qualify as a ‘person aggrieved’ authorized to bring a Title VII action, a plaintiff must be a member of the class of direct victims of conduct prohibited by Title VII, that is, the plaintiff must assert his own statutory rights" and must allege that he has been discriminated against because of his race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Court ruled that, because the white police officers only asserted the rights of third-parties, they did not state a cause of action under Title VII.