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“Contemporary vulgarism” may mean that federal civil rights laws barring sexual harassment at work are “unenforceable,” a federal judge in Savannah, Ga., has ruled. In the second opinion he has issued in a sexual harassment case filed by a former employee against Atlanta-based Wolf Camera, federal Judge B. Avant Edenfield of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia made a veiled jibe at former President Bill Clinton’s “internal affairs” and recited a graphic “parade of horribles” from similar sexual harassment litigation. Breda v. Wolf Camera, No. 4:97-cv-366 (S.D. Ga. June 25, 2001). Then Edenfield again rejected claims by Gabrielle Breda that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment that forced her to resign. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice on June 25. Edenfield’s first order, which granted summary judgment to Wolf Camera, was remanded by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Breda v. Wolf Camera, 222 F.3d at 890. In her suit, Breda claimed that two male co-workers began subjecting her to a “continuous pattern of sexual harassment” on her first day of work. She said in her suit that she had complained to her supervisor, who insisted that her complaints did not constitute sexual harassment but “only general animosity between co-workers,” according to Edenfield’s most recent opinion. Breda was hired to work as a sales associate at a Savannah, Ga., Wolf Camera store in October 1995. She resigned in December 1996. Edenfield wrote that he based his ruling, in part, on the question of whether the conduct was “sufficiently severe” to violate her civil rights. That determination, the judge noted, was complicated because “the modern notion of acceptable behavior — as corroded by instant-gratification driven, cultural influences (e.g. lewd music, videos, and computer games, ‘perversity-programming’ broadcast standards, White House ‘internal affairs,’ and perjurious coverups of same, etc.) has been coarsening over time … “ As a result, a “victim,” according to Edenfield, may have to accept a certain amount of “boorish behavior” or “workplace vulgarity” as normal rather than a civil violation in what he describes as today’s “Slouch Toward Gomorrah” society. Edenfield wrote that today, determining that a work environment is sexually hostile is as difficult as “trying to nail a jellyfish to the wall.” The result, he wrote: “What is occurring in this area of law may just lead defendants to challenge Title VII, as applied in this context, as unenforceable.” ” ‘Sensitive’ judges might find a case laden with sexually crude jokes and behavior sufficient to send the case to a jury, if not support a jury’s ‘hostile environment’ determination,” he continued. “ In contrast, judges desensitized by contemporaneous, ‘Vulgarians-at-the-Gate’ cultural standards might find the same facts insufficiently severe, then grant the defendant summary judgment.” According to Edenfield, in making her case, the plaintiff “produced a laundry list of seemingly every last comment, sneer, leer, workplace dirty trick, etc. unleashed against her.” Edenfield’s own recitation of behavior in question included allegations that Breda’s co-workers constantly used sexual epithets and obscenities, waited for her outside the restroom and then berated her for taking so long, and told her she made sales because male customers wanted to have sex with her. The co-workers also allegedly used the store’s telephoto lenses to ogle her and other women. Rather than finding that such behavior constituted sexual harassment, Edenfield determined, “The conduct is juvenile, offensive, and at times even mean-spirited, but merely inserting every last rude or sexualized comment/gesture/joke into a lengthy list accumulated over the years of employment does not … a Title VII claim make … “

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