By Lori Phillips
In a case of first impression, Adams v. Austal, USA, LLC, No. 12-11507 (11th Cir. June 17, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit addressed whether an employee may rely on evidence of racial harassment of which he is not personally aware to prove that his work environment was objectively hostile. There, 24 African Americans sued their employer for racial discrimination claims, including hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment against 13 of them, concluding that though they met the subjective element of the severe-or-pervasive prong of a hostile work environment, they did not meet the objective prong. The employees appealed, arguing the district court erred by failing to consider evidence of racial harassment of which the individual employees were unaware—but of which other employees were aware. In affirming the district court, the 11th Circuit reasoned that the objective totality of a plaintiff’s workplace circumstances does not include other employees’ experiences of which the plaintiff is unaware until after his employment ended or what discovery later revealed.
The 11th Circuit’s decision is in line with those of the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Circuits. This case prevents employees from alleging a hostile work environment on “me too” evidence alone.