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Hostile work environment case reinstated for baseball team worker

Posted On: May. 31, 2019 1:05 PM CST


A federal appeals court has reinstated the hostile work environment claim of a minor league baseball team’s former food and beverages manager.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco affirmed, however, dismissal of Nichole Ochs’ sex discrimination and retaliation claims, according to Thursdays’ ruling in Nicole Ochs v. Eugene Emeralds Baseball Club Inc. et al.

After she was fired from her job in December 2015, Ms. Ochs filed suit against the Eugene, Oregon-based Eugene Emeralds Baseball Club, the team’s owner, Manhattan Beach, California-based Elmore Sports Group Ltd., and the team’s general manager, Allan Benavides, in U.S. District Court in Eugene, charging a hostile work environment, sex/gender discrimination and retaliation.

The U.S. District Court in Eugene granted the defendants summary judgment dismissing all the charges. In reinstating the hostile work environment claim, a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel said: “Ochs presented evidence that, for a period of roughly three years Benavides repeatedly and aggressively called her a ‘bitch,’ often in response to routine questions,” as well as other disparaging terms.

A jury “could find that, in these circumstances, Benavides’s repeated and aggressive use of the epithets was because of Ochs’ sex,” said the ruling. “A reasonable jury also might find Benavides’s conduct objectively severe or pervasive enough to ‘alter the condition of (Ochs’) employment and created an abusive working environment,’” it said in quoting an earlier ruling.

“And a reasonable jury could conclude that Ochs subjectively perceived her work environment to be abusive because she informed Benavides his conduct was disrespectful; complained about Benavides’s conduct to coworkers; and felt she was being undermined by Benavides’s conduct,” said the ruling, in reversing the District Court’s grant of summary judgment on the charge.

The court also held, however, that Ms. Ochs had failed to make a prima facie showing of employment discrimination. In dismissing her retaliation charge, the ruling said she had not shown a causal link between her protected activity and termination, nor that the team’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her, that she was not performing her work satisfactorily, was pretextual.

Attorneys in the case could not immediately be reached for comment.

In February, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated a hostile work environment claim filed by a Chicago Board of Education engineer, stating a different standard must be used in evaluating hostility expressed by a supervisor compared with that of a co-worker.