Now There’s a Harassment Claim That Was Quite Rightly Rejected

From Walker v. Jackson (EEOC Oct. 6, 2011):

On December 1, 2011 [sic], Complainant filed a formal EEO complaint alleging that he was subjected to harassment and reprisal on the basis of his religious beliefs (Pentecostal). Briefly, the complaint alleged that, on November 18, 2010 [sic], Complainant was the recipient of an email from the Acting Director, sent to the NCEA [EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment] global list-serve (which includes Complainant and all other NCEA employees), announcing an on-site celebration of a same-sex marriage of an employee which read as follows:

[Employee A] and his partner [named] are getting married this Sunday. The IO is sponsoring an informal celebration to congratulate [Employee A] on this happy event. Please feeI free to drop by the IO conference room on Thursday, October 7 at 4:30 P.M. to wish them well.

Thirteen days later, on October 18, 2010, Complainant responded to the Acting Director’s email, with a copy to the NCEA global list-serve, with the following message:

I feel your message announcing the celebration of the “union” of [Employee A] and his “Partner” was offensive and insensitive to my religious faith as a Christian. I think it is general knowledge that the Christian faith only condones “marriages” between men and women, not men and other men. As acting Office Director, I feel you could have been more “sensitive” and “neutral” with regards to this issue.

The next day, NCEA employees sent approximately 15-20 emails on the global list-serve (including Complainant) congratulating Employee A on his marriage. None of these emails specifically mentioned Complainant or his email. The record does show that two employees did email Complainant personally (not sent to the NCEA global list-serve) and expressed the opinion that Complainant’s email was insensitive because it was sent to everyone, including Employee A, rather than just to the Acting Director.

By final decision dated April 14, 2011, the Agency dismissed the complaint, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1), for failure to state a claim. The instant appeal followed. On appeal, Complainant argues that the 15 employees who copied him on the congratulatory emails despite receiving his email protesting the Acting Director’s original email were retaliating against him and harassing him because of his religious faith and beliefs. Complainant claimed that the barrage of emails “affected his psychological well-being in the office.” …

No religious harassment, the Commission concluded, and rightly so. I’ve argued that the current state of hostile environment harassment law is too broad, but it’s not that ridiculously broad. Hint: If you publicly complain about a colleague’s celebration, and a bunch of people respond by conspicuously congratulating the colleague, that’s disagreement — it’s not harassment.