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is morally wrong and legally actionable. Most sexual harassment claims are
made under Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. It provides
that "it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer .
. . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's
race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
What is Sexual Harassment?
In a series
of major decisions in 1998, the United States Supreme Court clarified
and broadened the law. In a unanimous decision in March, 1998 the Court
said: "When the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation,
ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter
the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working
environment, Title VII is violated."
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has defined sexual harassment
as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other
verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ... when ... submission
to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions...
or such conduct has the purpose or effect of ... creating an intimidating,
hostile or offensive working environment."
IS EVERYTHING RELATED TO SEX IN THE WORKPLACE
No. As the Supreme Court said in a June, 1998 decision, "Sexual harassment
under Title VII presupposes intentional conduct." The prohibition of
harassment on the basis of sex forbids only behavior so objectively offensive
as to alter the "conditions" of the victim's employment.
As the Supreme
Court reiterated in June, 1998: "in order to be actionable under
the statute, a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively
and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile
or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to be so."
Courts determine whether an environment is sufficiently hostile or abusive
by "looking at all the circumstances," including the "frequency
of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically
threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether
it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance."
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