November 15, 2017
By Alan C. Blanco, Esq.
One area of discrimination law which has received a great deal of public attention is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, by definition, is unwelcome. In an early case in this area, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court in 1986 established that sexual advances could be unwelcome even when the victim voluntarily agreed to the advances. The Supreme Court rejected the concept that only involuntarily engaged sexual conduct (such as rape) could be actionable.
Sexual harassment claims are usually categorized two ways: quid pro quo and hostile environment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment results when someone relies upon their authority at work to extort sexual favors. This type of harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. For example, “You won’t get this promotion unless you go out with me.” would be Quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Hostile environment sexual harassment
Hostile environment sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.
Many kinds of conduct can be found to give rise to hostile environment sexual harassment. The conduct must be sex based. The conduct can include epithets, slurs, negative stereotyping, threats, displays of written or graphic material that demean an individual or group because of gender, jokes, sexual hijinx, etc. When the conduct interferes with your ability to do your job and or your mental health, you may have a case. Courts evaluate both the severity and pervasiveness of the conduct.
In some cases, your employer can be liable for sexual harassment committed by employees and/or customers. In two cases, Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, and Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, the Supreme Court established that an employer can be vicariously liable for sexual harassment of an employee by a supervisor with authority over the employee even when there have been no tangible job detriments resulting from the harassment. The employer must show it took reasonable care to promptly prevent and correct any sexual harassing behavior if it was reported.
If you believe you have been sexually harassed at work, you should speak to an employment lawyer. You may call our office at (412) 338-1195 or contact us via email to have your case evaluated.