This woman was sniffed by co-workers who were former prison inmates. 

Tonia Royal was hired to work as a leasing manager for an apartment complex on August 3, 2009. By August 6, she’d been fired.

How’d that happen?

Royal claimed that during her short employment, two maintenance workers would enter her office and hover over her as she sat at her desk and sniff her. Yes, you read that right — sniff her.

This occurred about twelve times, for each worker, over the four-days period of her employment. And it wasn’t always the same: Sometimes each would come alone, and sometimes they would come together.

Royal told them several times that she didn’t like their behavior but they refused to stop. The workers would sometimes sniff and hover directly over Royal’s head when she was seated, and sometimes the men would sniff even when Royal exited the bathroom.

‘You know how men are like when they get out of prison’

That was only one of the crazy incidents Royal endured. (Did we mention this all occurred over just four days?) Royal also claimed that a visibly aroused maintenance worker wearing shorts sat on a cabinet behind her while visibly around for three to five minutes.

And then there was the incident where an assistant manager stood right behind Royal while she was gathering files. When Royal stood up, she stumbled into him with her whole body. Royal complained, but her manager told her to “let it slide” because “you know how men are like when they get out of prison.”

Royal complained about the behavior at a staff meeting later that week. Shortly thereafter she was fired. Royal said the company gave no reason. The company asserted at oral argument that Royal’s was fired for “inappropriate behavior in the workplace” — specifically, swatting a fly harder than was necessary and slamming a door.

Sexual harassment and retaliation

Royal filed suit, claiming sexual harassment and retaliation.

Michael P. Maslanka, writing on the Work Matters blog, laid out exactly why the court sided with Royal:

… the court noted that the alleged conduct occurred in a small space and allegedly was engaged in by men who had been in prison. Such conduct … could be seen as “physically threatening.”

The panel also drove a stake in the heart of the argument that, to establish a hostile environment, a plaintiff must show that the alleged conduct was both “severe and pervasive.”

The case is Royal v. CCC&R Tres Arboles LLC.


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