One of the most vexing problems facing employees suing their employers for harassment is what legal standard the acts must meet in order to prove harassment. In the case of Castleberry v. STI Group, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that harassment need only be severe or pervasive, giving a significant victory to employees.
In that case, Atron Castleberry and John Brown were African-American men. They obtained jobs through a staffing agency, STI Group, which employed and placed them with Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an oil and gas company. Shortly after they were hired, the only other African-American on their crew was fired. They alleged that on several occasions someone wrote “don’t be black on the right of way” on their timesheets. They also alleged that they were only allowed to clean around pipelines despite their experience, when other employees faced no such restrictions, including white employees with less experience. They also claimed that while they were working on a fence-removal project their supervisor told them that they would be fired if they “n…..r-rigged” the fence. After the last incident, which seven co-workers confirmed, they reported the incident. Two weeks later they were fired.
They filed suit in the United States District Court under federal employment law. The district judge dismissed their case before any evidence was exchanged in discovery because he believed that the employees had not alleged harassment which created a hostile work environment which was both “severe” and “pervasive.” The employees appealed to the United States of America for the Third Circuit, which hears appeals of New Jersey Federal cases. The Third Circuit reversed.