Discrimination is partiality or bias in the treatment of a person or group that is unfair or violates law or policy. Treating someone differently based on a protected class violates University policy. A protected class is a group of people protected against discrimination by University policy or by state and federal law.
Not all discrimination violates law or policy. One can be subject to unfair treatment that does not violate University policy or state or federal law. An example would be being treated unfairly because someone doesn’t like you or because of your political affiliations.
The University’s nondiscrimination policy applies broadly to students, employees, and visitors. Hostile environment is a commonly used term but from a legal and policy perspective, a hostile environment is a form of discriminatory harassment.
Harassment means unwelcome or offensive conduct which has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individuals’ work or academic environment or creating an intimidating hostile, offensive or otherwise working or learning environment based upon a person’s race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or protected veteran’s status. The University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (OEO/AA) is responsible for the University’s nondiscrimination policies.
Many people have heard the term “hostile environment” in the context of sexual harassment but a “hostile environment” can also include harassment because of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and protected veteran’s status. For harassment not related to discrimination, contact Human Resources.
A hostile environment can be created in many ways. Verbal comments, text messages, pictures, graphics, graffiti and physical conduct can create a hostile environment. This might look like racial slurs, comments about a person’s national origin, or behavior or words that mock, demean, put down, disparage, threaten or ridicule others based upon race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and protected veteran’s status.
An isolated statement, even if rude and offensive, generally does not constitute a hostile environment. Occasional insensitive and off-hand comments, even if inappropriate or unprofessional, will generally not create a hostile environment. The focus is whether the behavior, as a whole, affecting a person’s education or working environment. In order to interfere with a person’s work or educational environment, generally the conduct must be severe, recurring and pervasive so that it interferes with your ability to fulfill your work and academic pursuits.
Although an occasional comment may not constitute a violation of the University’s nondiscrimination policy, other provisions of University policy governing student and employee conduct may apply. It is important to mention that the University, in terms of student, visitor, and employee conduct, has an interest in preventing discrimination and harassment. For example, if a department has an employee who tells an inappropriate joke then other employees begin to participate in similar types of comments, believing that such behavior is condoned, the workplace can then develop into a hostile environment for those that find such conduct unwelcome and offensive.
The first step is to tell the individual that their comments are unwelcome and unwanted. Sometimes this may be difficult but once you have made it clear that their comments are not welcome, the individual has clearly been notified that you find their behavior unwelcome and offensive. Once the individual clearly understands the behavior isn’t welcome yet continues to engage in similar behavior, disciplinary action may be appropriate.
There are many options on the University campus that can assist you in addressing the unwanted and unwelcome behavior. The Office of the Dean of Students, Human Resources, and the Office of Equal Opportunity are all avenues that can assist you in addressing the unwelcome behavior.
University policy prohibits retaliation against an individual for having made a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, hearing, or proceeding under the university’s nondiscrimination policies or for interfering with the rights of individuals under the university’s nondiscrimination policies.
Examples of retaliation include:
- demoting, disciplining, or harassing an employee because the employee files or reports discrimination or sexual misconduct to OEO/AA
- interfering with witnesses or others who may be interviewed as part of an investigation
- giving a lower grade because a student does not accede to sexual advances
If you believe you have experienced discriminatory conduct, including sexual misconduct, or retaliation, you may file a complaint with our office.