The Sanders Firm, P.C. Logo 880 x 231

Same Sex Sexual Harassment Actionable Under Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, sex, color, religion and national origin. The courts have many times widened the scope of Title VII to include sexual harassment at workplace. The sexual harassment could be either providing employment benefits on conditions of sexual favors or creation of hostile or offensive work conditions or working environment. The majority of sexual harassment cases reported are involve members of the opposite sex. However, United States Supreme Court determined that same-sex sexual harassment cases are actionable under Title VII similar to claims involving members of the opposite sex. One of the seminal cases decided by the court is Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc.

In this case Mr. Joseph Oncale was employed with Sundowner Offshore Services along with seven other male employees. On the job his male colleagues subjected Oncale to continual sexual harassment, verbal abuse and sexually assaulted.  Mr. Oncale complained about the sexual harassment and abuse to Sundowner’s supervisory personnel, but no action was taken in this matter. Due to the constant harassment, Mr. Oncale resigned and requested that his layoff notice reflect, “Voluntarily left due to sexual harassment and verbal abuse”. In addition, Mr. Oncale wrote a note detailing the reason for resigning was that “he was afraid that he would be subjected to rape or forced sex by his male colleagues”.

“Mr. Oncale filed a federal complaint in the District Court alleging that he was discriminated in the workplace because of his sex. The court dismissed the matter stating that,

“Mr. Oncale, a male, has no cause of action under Title VII for harassment by male co-workers”.

“When the matter came before the Supreme Court, the court observed that Title VII is applicable to both men and women. Men can also bring an action under Title VII for sexual harassment by their male co-workers or employers. The general thought is that sexual harassment cannot occur between same-sex, it can happen only between opposite sexes. The Court rejected the presumption that an employer cannot and does not discriminate against members of his own sex.  In this context, the Supreme Court has stated:

“Because of the many facets of human motivation, it would be unwise to presume as a matter of law that human beings of one definable group will not discriminate against other members of that group”.

Thus, same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII.