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Important Sexual Harassment Supreme Court Cases

  • Meritor Saving Bank v. Vinson (1986)
    • Vinson engaged in voluntary sexual relationship with supervisor, after relationship ended, she was terminated for time and attendance issues.
    • Court held voluntary does not necessarily mean welcome.
    • For sexual harassment to be actionable, it must be unwelcome and sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.
    • First recognition that hostile environment sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII.
  • Burlington Industries v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998)

    • Ellerth quit her job - alleged supervisor made numerous threats to retaliate against her if she denied him sexual liberties.
    • The threats were not carried out.
    • Ellerth knew that Burlington had an anti-harassment policy - but did not tell anyone in authority about the harassment.
    • Faragher resigned as a lifeguard - alleged that her two immediate male supervisors created a “sexually hostile atmosphere” at work.
    • Repeatedly subjected her and other female lifeguards to “uninvited and offensive touching”, lewd remarks, and speaking of women in offensive terms.
    • Faragher failed to complain about the harassment during her employment.
Principles of Cases:
  • When sexual harassment by a supervisor results in tangible employment action against an employee, employer is automatically liable.
  • If no tangible action taken, an affirmative defense is available, if the employer excised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly and sexually harassing behavior (has anti-harassment policy and complaint avenues).
  • The employee unreasonably failed to take preventive or corrective opportunities provided by employer (failed to take advantage of complaint process).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) adopted the principles the Supreme Court set forth in Ellerth and Faragher. Additionally, the Commission stated that while the Ellerth and Faragher decisions addressed sexual harassment, the same basic standard of liability apply to all forms of unlawful harassment.