Decoding Civility

48 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2013

See all articles by Kerri Lynn Stone

Kerri Lynn Stone

Florida International University (FIU) - College of Law

Date Written: 2013


If women outnumber men in graduate schools and are entering professional and other workplaces in unprecedented numbers, and if Title VII has aimed to eradicate workplace discrimination for almost fifty years, why are women still so woefully underrepresented at the highest levels of power, leadership, wealth, and prestige in the contemporary workplace?

This Article is about abusive speech in the workplace. It explores how the expression of bias in the workplace has evolved and been shaped by anti-discrimination legislation and jurisprudence. It identifies a category of biased speech that eludes prosecution under Title VII. Moreover, this Article seeks to provide explanations as to why this category of speech goes uncaptured by the law. It posits that changes in workplace behavior and demographics, as well as narrow judicial interpretations of the law, are responsible for the law's failure to recognize and acknowledge the nexus between some abusive workplace speech and actionable Title VII harassment and "because of" claims. Is it the case that the strictures of Title VII, the benefits of free speech, and the unobstructed marketplace of ideas make this the appropriate result? Or is it the case that Title VII's objectives simply cannot be met by mechanically relegating some biased speech in certain contexts to the realm of the unlawful, while allowing other, possibly equally corrosive, speech to taint and poison workplace operations and experiences?

Keywords: Workplace, Title VII, abusive speech, discrimination, women, biased speech, harassment, free speech, Civil Rights Act of 1964, gender equality, discrimination in the air, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, employees, effects, Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., First Amendment, European Union

Suggested Citation

Stone, Kerri Lynn, Decoding Civility (2013). Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, Vol. 28, No. 2, 2013; Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-33. Available at SSRN:

Kerri Lynn Stone (Contact Author)

Florida International University (FIU) - College of Law ( email )

11200 SW 8th St.
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States
305-348-1154 (Phone)


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