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Employer Liable for Sexual Harassment By Supervisor

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An employer is liable for direct actions against employees. Many times courts have imposed vicarious liability on the employers for the actions of their agents. This means that if any employee is discriminated against or harassed by an agent of the employer, the employer can be made liable for the actions of its agents. One such case decided by the court is Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth.

In this case, Kimberly Ellerth was an employee of Burlington Industries Inc. She quit her job alleging the she was constantly harassed sexually by one of her supervisors, Ted Slowik, who was in charge of promotions and increments but not a policy maker. She alleged that the harassment against her created a hostile work environment and also affected her work benefits. Ellerth brought an action before the District Court alleging that the supervisor’s action is in violation of Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII “prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of sex, race, religion, color and national origin.”

The District Court issued an order favoring Ellerth. Burlington appealed before the Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit. The Court of Appeals observed that the concept of ‘hostile work environment’ violates Title VII and is a cognizable offense under Title VII. Further, the Court observed the concept of ‘vicarious liability’. It was discussed that the term ‘employer’ under Title VII also includes the agents of the employer. Moreover, violations of Title VII can be claimed only for an intentional action against the employee although the concept of ‘vicarious liability’ is applicable for both intentional and negligent torts.

In the instant case, Court observed that the supervisor is the agent of the employer and hence Burlington is vicariously liable for the actions of its agent, the supervisor. Therefore, the action of the supervisor is intentional and is in violation of Title VII.

The contention of the employer was that Burlington have a policy against sexual harassment, it was the duty of the employee to complain about the alleged sexual harassment to Burlington. Burlington further argued that it could not be held responsible for torts or other offenses that are committed by its supervisor without its knowledge. Moreover, the employee did not inform Burlington of the alleged sexual harassment, further, Ellerth had no proof of being sexually harassed.

The Court rejected these contentions of Burlington and ruled that it was vicariously liable for the actions of its supervisor. The Court held that:
“Under Title VII, an employee who refuses the unwelcome and threatening sexual advances of a supervisor, yet suffers no adverse, tangible job consequences, may recover against the employer without showing the employer is negligent or otherwise at fault for the supervisor’s actions, but the employer may interpose an affirmative defense.”

Therefore, the Court granted an opportunity to Ellerth to prove liability and recover against the employer for alleged sexual harassment. The Court also granted Burlington the opportunity of being heard that is, an opportunity to defend against Ellerth’s alleged claims of sexual harassment.
If you believe that, you are the victim of gender discrimination aka sexual harassment contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York at 1-800-371-4835. We will review your claim thoroughly, providing you with an outline of possible actions you may wish to take. We are ready to be your voice for justice.

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