Federal Judge Links Hostile Workplace And Retaliation

A federal judge has upheld a claim by accountant of Indian origin that he was subjected to a hostile workplace in retaliation for filing discrimination complaints against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang of Maryland said a hostile work environment exists under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the workplace is permeated with “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive work environment.

He said some of the harassment suffered by accountant Samba Vedula, who joined HHS in 2010, was not particularly severe and/or involved management discretion but “several of the verbal confrontations were insulting and humiliating, and the pervasiveness of these actions was so pronounced” that a jury could find the existence of a hostile workplace environment.

Judge Chuang said Vedula failed to show the harassment was directed at his national origin and sex but did produce sufficient evidence to show the harassment was the result of retaliation for filing complaints about the harassment with the HHS.

The adverse actions taken by HHS supervisors after Vedula’s complaints “constitute materially adverse actions for purposes of the retaliation claim because they would have ‘dissuade[d] a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination,'” writes Judge Chaung.

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