Employers Now On The Hook For Workers' Gay Slurs In Landmark Case

For decades, Luis Patino worked for Birken Manufacturing Co. in Connecticut, building aircraft components. Starting in 1991, the taunts became relentless: "faggot," "homo," "faggot go home." They harassed him in Italian and Spanish, too: "pato," "maricon," "pira." His body shook with humiliation, his work suffered, and he struggled to get to sleep at night. Patino complained to management many times over many years, but the insults never stopped.

It wasn't clear, however, that Patino's employer had done anything illegal. No court in the country has ever held a company responsible for the gay harassment suffered by an employee. But this past Friday, the Connecticut Supreme Court did. Patino, who will be 73 next week, was awarded $94,500, reports the Hartford Courant.

Patino started working at Birken in 1977, but the slurs only started 14 years later, the same year Connecticut became one of the first five states to pass a sexual orientation anti-discrimination law. Patino noted the incidents in a diary, but waited five or six years to report them to a supervisor, according to the court brief. The harassment let up for a few weeks, and one of the offenders was transferred, but soon the torment returned in full force.

So Patino hired a lawyer, who sent a complaint to Birken's then-vice president and general counsel, and now president, Gary Greenberg. In a letter, Greenberg recommended that Patino get a psychiatric evaluation, because his emotional state might pose a "safety risk to others when mental facilities were compromised," reports the Hartford Courant.

Patino filed five complaints over the years with the commission on human rights and opportunities, and continued to send letters to Greenberg. But according to the brief, he eventually stopped, writing that more letters would be "an exercise in futility."

In his last complaint, Patino accused Birken of allowing "a hostile work environment" by "failing to take adequate measures to alleviate the harassment or to remedy the hostile work environment."

The phrase "hostile work environment" is often used in cases of sexual harassment. For several decades, sexual harassment -- relentless sexual remarks, touching, and groping -- didn't count as discrimination under the law. But in 1986, the Supreme Court decided that the vice president of a bank, who repeatedly touched and forcibly raped a young, female teller, created a "hostile work environment," which counted as sex discrimination. The bank was therefore liable.

This idea had never been applied to the harassment of gay men and women, however. After all, protections against gay men and women are pretty new, although their harassment is very common. Studies show that 15 to 43 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual workers have experienced discrimination on the job.

Patino's trial began in 2006. Birken argued that the evidence wasn't sufficient, because many of the alleged slurs were in languages, like French, Portuguese and Laotian, which Patino didn't understand. And even if Patino was harassed, the company argued that it wasn't responsible because allowing a "hostile work environment" for gay workers wasn't part of the anti-discrimination law.

The jury didn't buy it, and ultimately awarded Patino $94,000. Birken appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which on Friday agreed with the jury decision, shutting down the defense's arguments in a tone that was more "strident" than his attorney Jon L. Schoenhorn has seen in three decades in the courts.

Employers could officially be held responsible if their employees harassed a gay co-worker and they didn't do enough to stop it, allowing a "hostile work environment" to persist, the ruling held. And that may apply to other protected groups too, like minorities and disabled Americans.

"It's a sweeping decision," said Schoenhorn; an employer no longer has to actively discriminate to be guilty of discrimination; "callous disregard" is enough.

"This type of discrimination happens to gay people everywhere, every day," Patino said in a statement. "I am aware that some victims have committed suicide because of this hostile treatment."

"I am glad I was able to play a small part in making law that will protect other gay people," he continued. "It means that employers must take seriously these complaints and these situations, or face the consequences."

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Bill E Asbury

How about if employers only hired people who pledge to respect everybody else? Conversation was limited to only work related subjects?A workforce of basic individuals with no team or group relationships? Close the plant and move to China?

May 27 2012 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Winston Blake

The Democrats want to first molest the minds of children and then molest their bodies later.

People just don't want to pay public welfare benefits for two lunatics sodding off all day.

Muslims would just kill homosexuals.

Taking into consideration broken clocks tell the correct time twice each day, maybe "spread the other cheek" is not a good public policy.

In your unabridged Oxford Dictionaries, the word "faggotry" denotes the bundling of steel to be hammered or rolled together.

Mammalian evolution is entirely heterosexual.

Monogamy is not required for evolution, monogamy is a tenet of religion.

To prohibit polyandry and polygyny is an ecclesiastic rule of law.

To establish an ecclesiastic standard of monogamy for homosexuals is nothing but RELIGIOUS FAGGOTRY.

Democrats live in a fantasy world where fairies wave magic wands over their anus and babies materialize out of thin air.

All men are born of a woman.

If you have to tell grown men that babies will not come out of their rectums, there is no hope for any rational discourse...

May 14 2012 at 9:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We need discrimination under cover cops to patrol the work place when known incidents are phoned in by victims.

May 10 2012 at 4:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Police need to come with batons and stun guns an get the ghetto managers who fire older workers wrongfully.

May 10 2012 at 4:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

States must have their own discrimination laws because it's been a law on the Federal level for years.

May 10 2012 at 4:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If the company had responded to his complaints and put a stop to the torment, this would have never happened. It's their job to make sure these types of work environments don't develop. The courts were right in this instance.

May 09 2012 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Doug Click

Well I guess that companies are liable for everything. Lawyers will twist anything to make a buck. Sue the employes that were harassing the guy ( they have no money ). If someone that works for a company steals a car then I guess that they will be liable for that as well. I don't agree with harassing that guy but he could go and get a job some where else.

May 09 2012 at 4:55 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Doug Click's comment

So you approve of the company repeatedly ignoring this gentleman's formal complaints?

May 10 2012 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had to - as Store Manager - stop harassment of an employee and did. Sat both employees down - asked a series of questions - got the answers - asked follow up questions and proceeded from there. Watched the workers over several weeks. I found the employee who was the antagonist had problems working with the other protagonist. He came in to ask to be placed on another shift. I couldn't do this since neither were available for other shifts... And realizing what he was actually asking me for was to move the protagonist to another shift he wasn't hired for and wasn't available for told him to make the best of things. Meanwhile I was documenting and had my assist. managers documenting everything that went on when there was interaction between them. Apparently the antagonist was having his friends come in the store when I wasn't there and making fun of the other employee. My assistant called me - and I called Mall Security - asked them to proceed to my Store and with descriptions and by asking my assistant which people were in the store making aspersions of an employee to lead them out of the store telling them (as I told my assistant) that if they entered again the police would be called and charges would be entered. I thought that was the end of it. I decided to go to the store one night. I sat outside watching the store and the goings on - no one noticed me. Closing procedures went as normal - assistant manager to be last to leave. I went out a side door to the parking lot - in the dark I watched from near a dumpster. The assist. mgr left - locking the door, setting the alarm as usual. Then the antagonist got out of the other employee's car when his friends showed up in their car. He'd been holding him in his car. I called 911 and went over to see what was going on. I'd seen that the antagonist had beaten the protagonist and with his two friends were going to take the protagonist somewhere to do whatever. The police showed up. I explained what I'd seen and some history while the protagonist decided if charges would be pressed. Charges were pressed. I told the police that since this happened outside my employers store they had nothing to do with it and I would be witness. Then my assistant manager drove up to us and said she would be witness also since she too saw all that happened. She'd been tipped off and pretending to drive away took up a spot she could watch at. The antagonist was fired and sentenced to 90 days and his friends to 30 days each - hate crime. Antagonist was never the same after being locked up. He wrote a letter to the store for the protagonist which he let us all read. Subsequently he committed suicide 3 months later. Thrown out of his house. His Blue&Gold Macaw had died and without family and having taken up drinking became despondent. His letter was of woe, he'd been abused by his stepfather, whipped, put in the cellar for days and in jail he'd been assaulted by an inmate after it was learned what his crime had been.

May 09 2012 at 4:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jmg62's comment

I guess the moral is that when it comes to work - leave your pet peeves at the door. Sooner or later, whatever your hang-up is will catch up to you. No one knows the shoes another has walked in - and if you feel the need to antagonize someone - don't do it. It's going to hurt you no matter the immediate outcome. If it's too compelling to let go of - then get help. See a professional psychologist or psychiatrist and figure it out. There are going to be more and more differences in the future and if you've got trouble dealing with them - maybe it's not THEM. Maybe, just perhaps, it's YOU. And - as in the story in the article - it doesn't or shouldn't matter in WHAT language that's spoken - hatred and invidiousness comes across no matter and it's inappropriate in the workplace as anywhere.

May 09 2012 at 5:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Allowing a "hostile work environment" for ANY employee is disgraceful. It amounts to authorizing bullying and as adults, we are "supposedly" mature and should behave with decency and integrity. Apparently for those with serious issues, it is too difficult to behave with integrity and treat others with respect.

May 09 2012 at 12:29 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Ok, ok, stop calling gays gay. It may not be natural, and it may offend most people, but they have feelings too. Just stop it you meanies & pay up!

May 08 2012 at 10:16 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to simmersck's comment

I don't agree with the "...pay up!" position you have taken. As a homosexual myself, I have been the focus of ridicule and other slights, but I don't seek any retribution. In the end, it is those which engage daily, in these small but indecent acts, which are the ones with much bigger problems, as evidenced above by the experiences of the dutiful manager. I am just like anyone else; I have feelings, aspirations, problems, finances, family, friends, and when I get cut I bleed. It is unfortunate that people mistreat their fellows, but it is the mistreated which must seek the "higher road" and be an example.

May 21 2012 at 5:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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