A hostile workplace is something a reasonable person would feel is uncomfortable. It is a place where the situation makes a person feel unwanted, disrespected, intimidated or otherwise unsafe.
To prove a harassment case, you must also prove there is a hostile workplace.
Difference between a case and no case
Proving there is a hostile workplace is the main difference between proving your harassment case and losing it. The government requires you to show that harassment is so bad that it changes your workplace. It makes you unable to feel comfortable reporting to your job every day. This feeling stems from the treatment you receive or the way others act within the work area.
Absence of hostility means no harassment
If the issues occurring in your workplace happen only once, you likely do not have a case unless you can show there is a hostile work environment. For example, if someone tells a joke that is demeaning to a certain group of people, it could be harassment only if this is a recurring behavior that the person keeps repeating despite you or someone of authority telling him or her it is making others uncomfortable. A one-time joke or situation that ends with that instance is not creating a hostile workplace, and therefore, you would be unable to prove your case.
Your legal rights to report harassment and seek protection under federal law requires you to also show the actions that led to a hostile work environment. If you cannot prove this, then you will have a very difficult time winning your case.