Seventh Circuit: Post-Resignation Sex-Based Offensive Conduct Not Evidence of Pre-Resignation Hostile Work Environment

Contributed by Carly Zuba

What came first: the chicken or the egg?  Well, I’m not entirely sure.  However, due to the recent Seventh Circuit decision of Overly v. KeyBank National Association, I am sure of this: in the world of Title VII claims, a hostile work environment must come first – before an employee’s resignation – in order for an employee to effectively establish a hostile environment.  To expand, the Seventh Circuit recently held that a supervisor’s profane sex-based outburst towards a female former financial advisor was insufficient to show a hostile work environment under Title VII, since the outburst occurred after the female employee submitted her resignation.  You can read the case here

What exactly did supervisor Bielecki’s alleged outburst entail?  Upon receiving the resignation letter from Overly, the female employee, Bielecki decided to take an alternative approach to the traditional exit interview – he applauded, grabbed Overly’s arm to push her out the door, and yelled “Good Riddance Bitch.” 

For the record, it is not a good idea for a supervisor to exhibit this type of behavior towards an employee.  Nevertheless, the court found that:

By far the most disturbing evidence of gender bias comes after Overly had already resigned, but this cannot establish a hostile environment before her resignation. While it is unacceptable for a person to grab another in the workplace without permission, much less to refer to a woman as a “bitch,” Bielecki’s actions do not satisfy Overly’s burden to prove she suffered objectively severe and pervasive gender discrimination while working for KeyBank.

The court further held that Bielecki’s prior references to Overly as “cutie” five to ten times over the course of two months was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, especially given the fact Bielecki stopped upon request from Overly. 

So while this case makes it clear that post-resignation offensive harassment will not constitute evidence of a pre-resignation hostile work environment in the eyes of the Seventh Circuit, employers should nonetheless ensure that employee resignations are handled in a professional manner; it’s always a good policy to abstain from name-calling.