Chicago–In a case of first impression, a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has ruled that a single act of physical aggression by a male against a female co-worker–even though the attack does not involve sexual contact–can be enough to sustain a hostile work environment lawsuit under the federal sex discrimination laws. Smith v. Sheahan, No. 98-2445.

The defendant, a jail guard, had allegedly battered the plaintiff, a fellow officer, during a 1992 on-the-job encounter. The plaintiff’s arm was twisted so hard that she sustained ligament damage requiring surgery. Although the conduct was accompanied by gender-based epithets, no explicitly sexual contact occurred.