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Court Determines That Not All Inappropriate Conduct Gives Rise to Claim of Sexual Harassment

In Mokler v. County of Orange, the court of appeals determined that three instances of offensive behavior over a five-week period, did not demonstrate the continuous, pervasive harassment necessary to show a hostile work environment.

In Mokler, one of the male Supervisors called plaintiff an “aging nun” when he learned she was not married. A week later, when plaintiff greeted the Supervisor at a social function, he took her arm, pulled her towards him so that the sides of their bodies were touching and asked her if she was there to lobby him. When she responded in the negative, the Supervisor pointed to two women standing next to him and asked, “Why not? These women are lobbying me.” He also looked her up and down and told her she had a nice suit and nice legs. A month later, when plaintiff went to the Supervisor's office, he told her she looked nice and put his arm around her; he then pressed her to tell him where she lived and put his arm around her again, rubbing her breast in the process. During this same meeting, the Supervisor made a derogatory remark about Mexicans.

In a decision that surprised and pleased many employers, the appellate court held that the three incidents, though “rude, inappropriate, and offensive,” were not sufficient to create a hostile work environment as a matter of law because they did not show “a pattern of continuous, pervasive harassment.”