Amherst Cracks Down on “Locker Room Banter”—Another Team Bites the Dust

By Amy Epstein Gluck

First Harvard, then Columbia, and now Amherst College.

What do these schools have in common?

They are all elite colleges, yes, that’s true. They are all perched high up on various lists on U.S. News and World Report’s rankings.

And, it seems, Amherst is now joining the list of schools with sports teams whose season gets cancelled for sexual harassment, misogyny, and generally disgusting behavior!

According to the WaPo, Amherst College suspended its men’s cross-country team following a now-confirmed report that male athletes made misogynistic and racist comments in team-wide email chains over a number of years. The report, by the school’s student newspaper, included team members describing women as “meatslab” and “walking STD,” as well as using vulgar racial phrases.

Meat-slab, that’s a new one.

And walking STD? Cute.

The Indicator reported that a 2014 email had one team member asking another, “do asians really have horizontal vaginas?” For real.

Eh, “boys will be boys,” it’s not that big of a deal

As a parent of a soon-to-be college freshman female, these incidents are more than appalling—they misogynistic, racist, dehumanizing, and disgusting. Yet read the comments to the online article. Here are a few:

“My impression is that the male athletes there are typical jocks and not perfect. So this doesn’t surprise me. Yet it doesn’t seem that horrible to me either. Perhaps a bit of an over-reaction.”

“…being more hypersensitive about politically correct ish”

“The student-athletes sound stupid, but they have their youth to blame.”

In other words, some readers believe that this is just “locker room banter,” overblown political correctness, and “boys will be boys” behavior.

Now, the men’s cross-country team issued a formal apology, of course they did, but let’s see if they can change the culture, change the behavior.

This type of talk is so dangerous to our society, so demoralizing, and it should not be tolerated; it should be illegal.

Oh wait, right, it is illegal in the workplace.

Title VII Prohibits Comments That Rise to the Level of Sexual Harassment

Presumably, these college boys will grow up to be men and, hopefully, men with jobs. However, making these sexually charged comments or “locker room banter” as an employee or supervisor in the workplace may subject an employer to liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it rises to the level of sexual harassment and/or sex discrimination by creating a hostile work environment. Harassment based on sex, if it is severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive may constitute sexual harassment.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a reasonable person would find being called a slab of meat offensive. But that’s just me.

Moreover, the EEOC, the federal agency that enforces Title VII, considers offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats of assaults, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance to be “harassment.”

Moreover, in Massachusetts and Virginia like in many states, imputing a “loathsome” or “contagious” disease by publication to a third party (yep, email would do it) constitutes defamation per se.

When schools or employers tolerate this behavior, they expose themselves to all kinds of lawsuits.

The Takeaway for Employers:

The preventative and corrective action we recommend to employers would be the same advice we’d give to Amherst in situations where allegations and evidence sexual harassment or sex discrimination come to light.

1. Have a clear, no-tolerance discrimination and sexual harassment policy set forth in your employee manuals and handbooks; ensure it is disseminated throughout your company or school, and understood. If our nation’s schools stop tolerating sexual harassment, perhaps it would be less pervasive in the workplace;

2. Have a specific procedure for investigating any claims of sexual harassment and follow it, documenting the process along the way; and

3. Encourage reporting of sexual harassment and advise of an anti-retaliation policy for reporting.


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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.