History Of Sexual Harassment

The history of sexual harassment in the American workplace has its roots in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 1964 Act does not specifically mention sexual harassment but did make it illegal to bar employment based on sex, race, creed or national origin. Subsequent codes have defined sexual harassment and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for the administration of policies prohibiting sexual harassment in the job place. To understand the history of sexual harassment it is important to define what constitutes the behavior.

US EEOC Definition of Sexual Harassment.  “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

Different Types of Sexual Harassment. In the today’s workplace sexual harassment can be considered either quid pro quo or a hostile environment. Quid pro quo is a direct demand for a sexual favor to ensure job security. The hostile environment in the workplace would include sexual conversations, off color jokes, sexually explicit pictures, and inappropriate touching and gestures.

Barnes v. Train 1974. This 1974 lawsuit is considered the first sexual harassment case in America. A female worker claimed discrimination because she had rejected a male supervisor’s advances. The term sexual harassment was not used in the case and the court ruled there was no discrimination.

 Williams v. Saxbe 1976. In this case the court ruled that if a female employee could prove that she was negatively impacted by rejecting a boss’s advances then the incident would be considered sex discrimination.

 EEOC Guidelines of 1980 and 1981 Court Rulings. In 1980 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission established guidelines regarding sexual harassment; the guidelines were included to cover sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1981 in the case of Bundy v. Jackson the court upheld the idea of a sexually hostile environment.

 Meritor Savings Bank v Vinson 1986. This case involved a woman who did have sex with her male boss because she feared losing her job. The court ruled that although the woman consented to having sex the incident was sexual harassment because the boss’s advances were not welcomed. Additionally, the court ruled that the employer could be held liable if they knew about the harassment and did nothing to stop it.

 Robinson v Jacksonville Shipyards 1991. In this workplace women made up a smaller portion of the employees. Foul language, sexually explicit graffiti and pornography were part of the work atmosphere. The court ruled that this constituted a hostile environment and was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 augmented Title VII allowing for jury trials and increased damages in sexual harassment suits.

 The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The Congressional Accountability Act applied the same guidelines regarding sexual harassment to Congress as applied to employers.  

Kunin v Sears Roebuck 1999. In this case the court ruled that an employee needs to provide sufficient information to an employer in order to initiate a complaint. The employee needs to provide enough information for the employer to believe the accusation is probable.

 Miscellaneous Cases Post 2000. The courts have ruled against a number of cases and it is significant to understand why. In one case the court ruled that a soured romance between a supervisor and an employee did not constitute sexual harassment. A female employee lost her harassment case because co workers testified she seemed to enjoy spending time with the harasser.

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