facebook logo

To define sexual harassment, we must first begin with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act prohibits public and private employers from discriminating against applicants and employees with regard to their compensation, responsibilities, benefits, or privileges of employment because of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex. The law prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also biased job policies that disproportionately exclude minorities. In other words, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Sexual harassment has been the subject of many lengthy and expensive lawsuits. On June 26, 1998, the United States Supreme Court handed down two landmark decisions that essentially rewrote the liability standards for sexual harassment. Together, these two decisions set a new standard in the workplace for making employers liable for a supervisor’s sexual harassment toward a subordinate under his or her authority.

These two decisions established that an employer is legally responsible to a victimized employee who has been subjected to sexual harassment by a supervisor with authority over that employee. There are two instances when employers are responsible. First, when the harassment leads to a tangible employment action by the employer, such as demotion, decreased compensation, significantly different work assignments, or termination, the employer’s liability is absolute.

Second, when an employee has been subjected to sexual harassment, but there has been no tangible employment action, the employer is liable unless it can be proven that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior, and the employee “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or complaint procedure provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”

Taken together, these Supreme Court decisions make employers responsible for their supervisors’ sexually harassing behaviors in the workplace. Also, employees are responsible for reporting the offensive behavior in accordance with the employer’s policy and complaint procedure if the policy and procedures have been well publicized by the employer.

Although the Supreme Court has not directly addressed the standard of liability for peer sexual harassment, lower courts have consistently held employers liable. In most instances where employers knew or reasonably should have been aware of the sexually harassing behavior and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action, companies have been found liable.



Get more information about the Sexual Harassment Awareness Course.