An employer that allowed rap music with sexually explicit and violent lyrics to be played loudly on its premises will face a sex discrimination suit brought by eight ex-employees, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on Wednesday 3-0 in its decision overturning a motion to dismiss by Chief U.S. District Judge Miranda Du.
According to the suit, S&S Activewear allowed employees to set up powerful speakers across its 700,000-square-foot warehouse in Reno, Nevada. These speakers would allegedly play rap songs the plaintiffs found to be “sexually graphic [and] violently misogynistic.” Songs mentioned in the suit are “Blowjob Betty” by Too Short and “Stan” by Eminem.
The plaintiffs couldn’t simply avoid the music, Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in the ruling. “Sometimes employees placed the speakers on forklifts and drove around the warehouse, making it more difficult to predict — let alone evade — the music’s reach.” Employees of S&S complained “almost daily” for two years, the suit says.
Judge McKeown added that the music may have been a catalyst for an unsafe work environment: “[T]he music allegedly served as a catalyst for abusive conduct by male employees, who frequently pantomimed sexually graphic gestures, yelled obscenities, made sexually explicit remarks, and openly shared pornographic videos.” S&S allegedly referred to the explicit music as “motivational” before banning it in 2020.
“Whether sung, shouted, or whispered, blasted over speakers or relayed face-to-face,” Judge McKeown wrote, “sexist epithets can offend and may transform a workplace into a hostile environment” for all sexes.
Mark Mausert, an attorney for the plaintiffs, described the court’s decision as logical in a statement. “Every lawyer in the country who is handling an employment case should remember to inquire whether foul music is being played in the workplace,” he said by email. “If such music is loudly and frequently played, in the presence of managers, and an employee is offended thereby, liability easily follows.”