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Can Verbal Sexual Harassment Exist In A Foreign Language? You Make The Call

A female manager, Mayumi Bardiovsky, sued a celebrity sushi chef, Abe Hiroki, for unwanted sexual advances and because he repeatedly demeaned her in Japanese.

She claims Hiroki "touched a vegetable that he said looked like a vibrator"; "encouraged her to divorce her husband"; repeatedly propositioned her to sleep at his apartment and take trips with him"; discussed masturbation; criticized her weight; called her "ugly" in front of vendors; touched her buttocks; and hugged her "while making a humping motion."

Hiroki also allegedly ridiculed the plaintiff's jawline, calling her "ago" which means "jaw" in Japanese. The plaintiff is also Japanese, and alleges many of Hiroki's offensive comments were made in Japanese so that her English-speaking coworkers could not understand. Gene Maddaus "Celebrity Sushi Chef Accused of Sexually Harassing Staff," variety.com (Jun. 19, 2017)

So, the question for our readers is: Can a workplace participant create a hostile working environment using another language?

Please let us know what you think in the comment section or take the poll. Here are some opinions of some of the McCalmon editorial staff:

Jack McCalmon, Esq.

Physical and emotional sexual harassment are non-verbal forms of sexual harassment, so understanding the language used is not required to make a case. In the facts above, the chef's physical actions alone could lead a reasonable person to believe the chef created a hostile working environment for the target, especially because some of the harassment was in English.

Harassment that is verbal only and spoken in a language not understood by the target presents a challenge to any plaintiff because he or she must prove that the conduct was "unwelcome". How can you prove conduct is unwelcome if you don't know what the person is saying to you is even sexual in nature?

This is where the context of how something was said is important. Did it include sexual gestures or ridicule, for example?

What if the content was unknown to be sexual in nature, but had the effect of alienating the target from other workers? For example, did other workers, who did speak the language, laugh or treat the target differently? If so, the wrongdoing may be sexual harassment or could also be national origin, race, or color harassment. 

Leslie Zieren, Esq.

Any aspect of the laundry list of offensive comments and behaviors, if repeated, can create a hostile working environment for the plaintiff, regardless of whether anyone else in the workplace sees, hears, or understands the accused's conduct. Whether unwelcomed conduct is sexual harassment depends on the specific facts and the context of the situation. Unwelcome conduct can include not only touching, but also verbal behavior like repeated requests for dates, jokes, demeaning comments, or epithets. It can also include nonverbal behavior such as staring, leering, or lewd gestures, all of which convey a particular meaning, no matter what a language is spoken in a workplace.

Please make the call and continue the conversation at: #SexualHarassmentInAnyLanguage or join us on Facebook at #SexualHarassmentInAnyLanguageFB or #SexualHarassmentInAnyLanguageTwitter.

You can provide a comment on what you would do or answer our poll. Please note any comments provided may be shared with others.  

Finally, your opinion is important to us. Please complete the opinion survey:

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