An associate professor filed a lawsuit against a university, claiming that her supervisor harassed her at work, creating a hostile work environment. She claimed that the harassment was due to her race, religion, sex or national origin. The professor is a Christian female of Greek descent, and her supervisor is a Muslim male of Egyptian descent. Her lawsuit was dismissed, with the court finding that although the work environment was potentially hostile, she had failed to prove that the harassment occurred because of a protected characteristic.

The professor appealed the dismissal. She alleged that her supervisor engaged in a pattern of hostile conduct toward her, including excluding her from committees, humiliating her during meetings, and undermining her to students and faculty members. The treatment was severe enough to attract attention from students, with one stating that the treatment “bordered on the barbaric” and another saying that the student had “never observed such open hatred and contempt” exhibited by one teacher toward another at a university. Hundreds of students signed a petition to protest the supervisor’s unprofessional treatment of the professor.

The court of appeals found that, while numerous hostilities were alleged, the evidence did not support a finding that the hostilities occurred because of a protected characteristic, such as national origin, religion or race. The law does not prohibit all verbal or physical harassment in the workplace, it only prohibits discrimination based on the traits protected by the statute. The court noted that the only arguably direct evidence that the supervisor’s conduct was motivated by gender was a remark made by to her by another person that she was not permitted to participate in meetings because “you talk too much for a woman.”

The court of appeals found that, with the exception of the one comment described above, all of the professor’s claims of discrimination were supported by “subjective beliefs” that she was the victim of discrimination and ordered that the case be dismissed.