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Blondes might have more fun, but they don’t have more rights or protections under federal employment discrimination law. That’s just one of the conclusions that led U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to dismiss Shramban v. Aetna Inc., a Title VII suit brought by a white, Jewish, blonde woman from Moldavia who claims she was harassed on the basis of her gender, race, religion or national origin. In a 19-page opinion, Joyner found that Brigitte Shramban’s hostile environment claims were grounded on little more than her own opinions about the discriminatory intent of her boss, Joe Kushnerick. “While [Kushnerick's] various alleged comments and questions may be viewed as offensive, disparaging, unprofessional and in poor taste, we conclude that they are insufficient to prove that the harassment of plaintiff was motivated by gender, race, religion or national origin,” Joyner wrote. “We also note that being blonde is not a protected group under Title VII,” Joyner wrote. Joyner said Kushnerick’s alleged comments “may be considered too personal in the professional working context as well as immature teasing or taunting, however, they do not rise to a level that constitutes a hostile work environment.” The ruling is a victory for Aetna’s defense team — attorneys John M. Elliott, Eric J. Bronstein and Raymond J. Santarelli of Elliott Reihner Siedzikowski & Egan in Blue Bell, Pa. In the suit, Shramban, who is represented by attorney Tova Weiss of Blitshtein & Weiss in Southampton, Pa., alleged that Kushnerick’s harassment was ethnic, sexist, sexual and religious. Kushnerick at times mimicked her accent, the suit said, and remarked that she did things in a “Russian” or “russki” way. He also pressed her with numerous questions about her Jewish religion, the suit said, such as asking whether there are Catholics in her native Moldavia, whether she celebrated Hanukkah, and whether she intended to work on the Jewish New Year. Kushnerick’s comments also took on a sexual tone at times, the suit said, such as asking about her boyfriend; complimenting her on dresses or outfits she wore; and looking into her eyes and saying that if she had any questions, she could always come to him. The suit said Kushnerick also moved his wedding ring on and off his finger while talking to Shramban and, on two occasions, that he touched her hand when he would take a report from her. Shramban also complained that Kushnerick’s comments about her hair color were sexist and sexual, such as asking if she knew what people say about blondes, and the only way to tell a natural blonde. Judge Joyner found that Shramban’s harassment claims fell short of stating a prima facie case under Title VII which calls for evidence of “intentional discrimination” that was “pervasive and regular” and motivated by the plaintiff’s membership in a protected group. Joyner found that Shramban couldn’t show she was the victim of “intentional discrimination,” noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has instructed that “simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms and conditions of employment.” And Kushnerick’s alleged conduct was neither pervasive nor severe, Joyner concluded. “The conduct and comments in question span a period of time of over a year. The alleged harassment of plaintiff did not occur with the frequency sufficient to be considered pervasive or regular,” Joyner wrote. “In addition, incidents of defendant’s alleged harassing behavior, such as improper personal comments and mimicking plaintiff’s accent, were neither severe nor sufficiently continuous, concerted or prolonged to alter conditions of employment as required by a hostile work environment claim,” Joyner wrote. And although Joyner found that Shramban had evidence that she was “detrimentally affected” by Kushnerick’s behavior, he also concluded that a reasonable worker would not have been. Joyner said there was evidence that Shramban was a “hypersensitive employee” and that “a reasonable person in a similar position would not find the alleged comments objectively hostile.” Shramban testified that she cried, suffered emotional distress, sought medical assistance from a psychiatrist and was stressed at work because of the hostile work environment. But Joyner said “the objective standard protects the employer from the ‘hypersensitive’ employee, but still serves the goal of equal opportunity.” Looking at all the facts, Joyner said, “we find no evidence or issue of material fact that plaintiff’s manager’s behavior was objectively offensive as to create an abusive working environment.”

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