Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

In four major cases during the 1997-98 term, the Supreme Court significantly redefined the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., et al

In a unanimous decision, the Court held that sexual discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (97-569)

In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that even when an employee suffers no adverse, tangible job consequences from unwanted sexual advances, the employee can still recover against an employer without having to show that the employer is negligent or otherwise at fault:

"An employer is subject to vicarious liability to a victimized employee for an actionable hostile environment created by a supervisor with immediate (or successively higher) authority over the employee. When no tangible employment action is taken, a defending employer may raise an affirmative defense to liability or damages, subject to proof by a preponderance of evidence.

The defense comprises two necessary elements: (a) that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior, and (b) that the plaintiff employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise . . . No affirmative defense is available, however, when the supervisor's harassment culminates in a tangible employment action."

Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (97-282)

The Court again ruled that an employer is potentially liable for a supervisor's conduct.

Gebser et al v. Lago Vista Independent School District

In this case, the Court held that " Damages may not be recovered for a teacher-student sexual harassment in an implied private aciton under Title IX unless a school district official who at a minimum has authority to institute corrective measures on the district's behalf has actual notice of, and is deliberately indifferent to, the teacher's misconduct.

For questions regarding Human Resources or employment regulations you may want to contact Jennifer McBennett of Seay Management Consultants at 407-426-9484 or email her.