An appeals court rules that blasting Eminem and Too $hort in the workplace may constitute sexual discrimination.
After Eminem’s “Stan” and Too $hort’s “Blowjob Betty” were played loudly in a warehouse during work hours in Reno, California, eight former employees filed a lawsuit against the company — a case previously dismissed by the overseeing judge. However, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned that decision this week, reinstating the lawsuit.
The eight former employees — seven of whom are women — initially filed suit against S&S Activewear after co-workers blasted loud music (on company-approved speakers) that repeatedly referred to women as “bitches,” “hoes,” and other derogatory names. Chief U.S. District Judge Miranda Du previously dismissed the case with claims that actions offensive to both sexes cannot be considered sex discrimination.
“An employer’s status as a purported ‘equal opportunity harasser’ provides no escape hatch for liability,” notes Judge M. Margaret McKeown in the 3-0 ruling to reinstate the suit.
According to the filing, the music was played loudly inside a 700,000-square-foot warehouse filled with hundreds of employees, half of whom are women. The suit alleged that S&S would allow commercial-grade speakers to be set up at five of the company’s locations so that employees to enjoy music loudly enough to drown out the noise of the factory.
However, employees in charge of the music would often play music with a decidedly “NSFW” tone, with the suit specifically noting the songs “Blowjob Betty” by Too $hort and “Stan” by Eminem.
“Sometimes employees placed the speakers on forklifts and drove around the warehouse, making it more difficult to predict — let alone evade — the music’s reach,” wrote McKeown. “In turn, the music allegedly served as a catalyst for abusive conduct by male employees, who frequently pantomimed sexually graphic gestures, yelled obscenities, made sexually explicit remarks, and openly shared pornographic videos.”
Previously dismissed in 2021 by a federal judge who noted that the offending employees acknowledged the conduct “was not directed at employees of either sex” but at everyone equally. Following multiple complaints in 2020, company management also claimed that the music was “motivational” to the workforce.
McKeown notes that harassment can be problematic in a workplace whether or not it is targeted.
“Whether sung, shouted, or whispered, blasted over speakers, or relayed face-to-face, sexist epithets can offend and may transform a workplace into a hostile environment,” she writes. “Exposing employees to misogynistic and sexually graphic music can be discrimination because of sex, even where the employer exposes both women and men to the material and even though both women and men find the material offensive.”