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Hostile Work Environment Due to Sexual Harassment

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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 the workplace. The sexual harassment could be either providing employment benefits on conditions of sexual favors aka “Quid pro quo” or the creation of offensive work conditions. A well-known case regarding the hostile working environment is Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986).

In this case, an employee brought an action against her supervisor for sexual harassment during the period of her employment at the bank. The employee’s contention was that the sexual harassment was in violation of Title VII of Civil Rights Act. Though the district court had passed an order stating that the sexual relationship of the employee with her supervisor was voluntary, the Court of Appeals affirmed the employee’s contention and the Supreme Court of the United States also upheld most of the findings of the court of appeals.

The Court of Appeals held that the employee was subjected to a “hostile work environment” form of sexual harassment and therefore, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court further held that in order to determine a “voluntary sexual relationship” there has to be either sexually provocative dress or speech or the welcomed sexual advances of the supervisor by the employee.
There is one aspect in which courts have different opinions. The aspect is regarding the liability of employer for the actions of its employees. In the instant case the employee had never complained about the sexual harassment to the concerned department of the bank. Hence, the bank was not aware of the incidents of sexual harassment of the employee by the supervisor. The Court of Appeals held that the employer is liable for the actions of its employees even though the harassment was not brought to the employer’s attention. The court defined a principal – agent relationship between the employer and the supervisor in this case. In arriving at this conclusion, the Court of Appeals considered the definition of ‘employer’ given under Title VII that includes ‘any agent.’ However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals erred in its finding with regard to this aspect. Further, the Supreme Court ruled that the bank cannot be made liable for the actions of its supervisor when the incidents of sexual harassment were not brought to its notice. Hence, in this case the principal – agent relationship was not established.

Further, the Supreme Court rejected the contention that the supervisor is not liable, as the employee had not complained to the grievance department of the bank. The court held that the bank’s grievance procedure includes filing a complaint with the supervisor. As in this case the complaint was against the supervisor, the employee cannot be considered to be at fault for not filing a complaint with the bank. Therefore, the supervisor is liable for sexually harassing the employee by creating hostile working environment in the workplace.

If you believe that, you are the victim of gender discrimination aka sexual harassment contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York. 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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