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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 11666
Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I am wondering if a situation I was involved in during work

Customer Question

I am wondering if a situation I was involved in during work last week would be considered harassment. It was my birthday on Friday and I was feeling a little out of sorts. While waiting to participate in a business meeting with 40+ representatives of our distributor, a fellow employee (from my company shows up with a box of small pastries and a big "Happy Birthday" balloon. I asked her 5 times not to take that into the meeting we the about to participate in. I am a private person and did not want my birthday to become a public event nor turn a business meeting into my birthday celebration. To each request, she replied, "too bad" or "I'm doing it". When we arrived to the meeting room at the table where we were assigned, there was the pastry box with the balloon flying high above it for all to see. I was furious and told her quietly that I asked for her not to bring it in. She replied "deal with it!" I lost my cool. We had words and she told me not to be such a grumpy person. I grabbed the balloon and broke it and stuffed it away. Of course, this brought some attention. I felt violated by her bringing my personal life into a business environment. I am thinking of taking the issue to HR....this gal has a track record of bullying her way through to achieve her own agenda and I have backed off other things (work-related) she may be pushing to avoid conflict with her but this was personal and I felt crossed the line of any acceptable behavior. I can't help thinking that if I (as a man) did the same thing to her, it would be considered harassment (with consequences), and feel the same rules should apply in this situation. I have been very upset about this for the last few days. There is a meeting tomorrow that I am considering not gong to because I don't want to see her. It really makes me feel like a victim. We have now been called in to meet with Management later in the week to air our differences and discuss rules of engagement moving forward. I don't want to see her and don't want to have a discussion about it. Before bringing this issue to HR, I want to make sure there would be no repercussions against me. Is this something you can respond to?
Submitted: 10 months ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 10 months ago.
Good evening and thank you for entrusting me to assist you. I am sorry to hear about this incident and appreciate your concerns. As to your question, people often misunderstand the legal definition of "harassment" to mean that any offensive or rude behavior is actionable. In fact, this is not the case. Only harassment that directly relates to a legally protected trait, such as race, religion, gender or age is actionable. The incident you describe relates to your birthday, but I'm really not sure that it can be considered an incident of "age harassment" unless this was all being done to point out and mock you for how old you are. I think you would have serious difficulty convincing a jury that someone bought you a balloon and pastries as part of a malicious plan to mock your age, and that is what you would need to establish in order to have an actionable claim of "harassment." You would also need to prove that you suffered severe emotional distress. Unless this incident has induced panic attacks requiring you to be medicated or has driven you to seek mental health counseling, you probably cannot demonstrate that. All of the above noted, any good faith complaint about actionable harassment (age, race, religion, etc.) is legally protected, meaning that your employer cannot retaliate against you for it in any way. So, if you did decide to complain and you framed this as "age harassment" your employer could not legally retaliate against you. I hope that you find this information helpful. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.If you do not require any further assistance, please be so kind as to provide a positive rating of my service so that I may receive credit for assisting you. Very best wishes moving forward.* Disclaimer *Just Answer is a venue for informational and educational purposes only. No attorney-client relationship is formed by these communications.