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Sexual Harassment In The Workplace Essay Research

Sexual Harassment In The Workplace Essay, Research Paper



Steve Phillis

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very serious problem that needs to be dealt with effectively. What is sexual harassment? Sexual harassment is defined as a form of sex discrimination, which is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, especially when submission to this conduct is made a term or condition of one’s employment (www.business.strose.edu). However, sexual harassment is not limited to sexual advances. It also includes the creation of a intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment based on one’s sex.

Although men also face harassment, women are the most likely victims. Harm caused by sexual harassment is often extreme, including loss of dignity, psychological injury, and damage to professional reputation and career. The victims often face a choice between their work and their self-esteem. Sometimes, they even face a choice between their jobs and their own safety.

There has been a great deal of debate on sexual harassment in the last few years. What exactly constitutes sexual harassment? There are many arguments of this nature. Many people think sexual harassment is something other than what it really is. Many people agree on the pro quo form of sexual harassment (sexual advances, requesting sexual favors, etc..). However, the “hostile working environment” harassment is still under great debate. This type of harassment is done when the workplace is full of discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult. It can make people feel very uncomfortable and is often less easy to recognize. This is where the law gets tricky. If the victim does not perceive the environment to be hostile, then it is not a violation of the law. One must look at the whole picture. This leads to many questions however. Is it okay to tell off-color jokes? What is unwelcome? When is conduct based on sex? Are employees allowed to flirt on the job? What happens when someone gets offended? Who decides what is appropriate? Should employees be required to tolerate some behavior but not another? Today, courts will more likely find an illegal hostile environment present when the workplace includes sexual propositions, pornography, extremely vulgar language, sexual touching, degrading comments, or embarrassing questions or jokes. There are many examples of court cases which back this up.

“(1) In Hall v. Gus Construction Co., a construction company had hired three woman to work at road construction sites. Male co-workers continually subjected these women to verbal sexual abuse. One woman even developed a skin reaction to the sun which the men immediately labeled “Herpes.” The women often found obscenities written in the dust on their co-worker. Male co-workers continuously asked the women for sexual favors. IN addition to the verbal abuse, the women were constantly subjected to offensive and unwelcome physical contact. On one occasion, the men help up one of the female employees so that the driver of a truck could touch her. The men subjected all three women to other types of abuse including “mooning” them, showing them pornographic pictures, and urinating in their water bottles and automobile gas tanks. The company’s supervisor was well aware of all of these activities. The court found this conduct violated Title Vii because it was unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, even though it did not contain “explicit sexual overtones.” (Roberts, Mann)

“(2) In Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc., a shipyard company employed a female welder who was continually subjected to nude and partially nude pictures posted by her male co-workers. The men also referred to the victim as “baby,” “sugar,” “momma”, and “dear.” In addition, the men wrote obscene graffiti directed at the victim all over the plant. The victim complained about this atmosphere of harassment on a number of occasions, but the company’s supervisory personnel provided little or no assistance. The court found this conduct violated Title VII because the plaintiff belonged to a protected category, was subject to unwelcome sexual harassment, the harassment was based on sex, it affected a term or condition of her employment, and the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take remedial action.” (Roberts, Mann)

“(3) In Waltman v. International Paper Co., the harassment began when a co-worker broadcast over the company’s public address system obscenities about he female victim, who then received over thirty pornographic notes in her locker. The men covered the walls of the facility and the elevator with pornographic pictures and crude remarks concerning the victim. In addition, one of the victim’s supervisors told her that she should have sex with a certain co-worker; he also physically accosted her. Another employee told the victim “he would cut off her left breast and shove it down her throat.” On another occasion, this same employee held the victim “over a stairwell, more than thirty feet from the floor.” Other male employees also physical grabbed and pinched the victim. The court found this conduct stated a claim of hostile environment discrimination under Title Vii, because employees touched her in a sexual manner, directed sexual comments toward, her and continued to write sexual graffiti throughout the workplace.” (www.business.strose.edu)

Even though these examples involved blue collar workers, the problem of sexual harassment is everywhere. It not only affects the “peons” in a company but reaches management, especially when the company or supervisor ignores the problem.

Although the courts are still debating the details of hostile environment cases, the Supreme Court remains strong it its view that federal law prohibits that type of sexual discrimination. The Court added that “Title VII comes into play before the harassing conduct leads to a nervous breakdown…Certainly Title VII bars conduct that would seriously affect a reasonable person’s psychological well-being, but the statute is not limited to such conduct. So long as the environment would reasonable be perceived, and is perceived, as hostile or abusive,….there is no need for it to be psychologically injurious.” (Roberts, Mann) Again, this boils down to looking at all the circumstances. The court also needs to look at the frequency of the conduct, it’s severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. The court also stated that although psychological harm is relevant, it is not required.

Another problem the courts face is: When is the employer liable? In sexual harassment cases based on a hostile work environment, employers are not always automatically liable for their supervisors’ conduct. On the other hand, absence of notice regarding the supervisors’ conduct does not necessarily insulate employers from liability. Employer’s are advised of the standards, and need to adhere to them as best as possible. According to the EEOC, employers are usually deemed to know of sexual harassment if it is: (1) openly practiced in the workplace; (2) well-known among employees; or (3) brought to the employer’s notice by a victim’s filing of a charge. Employers need to protect themselves from liability by taking immediate corrective action. Companies need to institute a sexual harassment policy and stick to it. When an employer fails to recognize sexual harassment at all, that is when they are usually found liable.

Many employers are continuing to ignore the need for a sexual harassment policy. Some feel they do not even need to promptly investigate a complaint. Companies need to act before the need to react has arisen. They must take all steps necessary to discourage sexual harassment. A sexual harassment policy should be a high priority of every company. This policy also needs to be distributed to all workers and supervisors. According to the EEOC, “a basic policy should set forth an express commitment to eradicate and prevent sexual harassment, a definition of sexual harassment, an explanation of penalties to be imposed, a detailed outline of the grievance procedure employees should use, additional resource or contact persons available for consultation, and an express commitment to keep all sexual harassment complaints and personnel actions confidential.” (www.business.strose.edu.) Companies may also want to warn their workers with examples of behavior that they consider inappropriate. This should include the telling of sexual jokes, posting pornography, or sexual advances towards co-workers.

In researching this paper, I also came across some disturbing statistics. The American court system did not decide the first sexual harassment case under Title VII until 1976. In 1976, a Redbook magazine poll found that nine out of ten women said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual advances at work. In 1980, the government surveyed its own employees and found that forty-two percent of women stated they had experienced some form of work-related sexual harassment, in addition to fifteen percent of men! Seven years later, the numbers had not changed. According to Working Woman Magazine, a typical Fortune 500 Corporation can expect to lose $6.7 million annually due to sexual harassment. This does not include the damage to a company’s image by bad press.

I believe that we are in need of a stronger federal law. A law that will better protect victims of sexual harassment. There have been too many victims who have spoke out and jeopardized their jobs, their careers, and their reputation, with little compensation. Until 1991, Title VII only entitled victims of sexual harassment to collect back pay, lost wages, and to be reinstated their jobs if they had been forced to leave. In 1991, Title VII entitled sexual harassment victims to receive damages for pain and suffering, including future damage the sexual harassment may have caused. Plaintiffs can also collect punitive damages, if they can demonstrate that an employer acted with malice or with reckless or callous indifference.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is an ongoing problem in today’s society. It involves not only blue collar workers, but large corporations as well. The laws have been updated and in more recent years, more protection has been brought to the victim. However, corporate America is still a long ways away from being rid of the problem. Employees are continuing to be victims of sexual harassment and to suffer with psychological and physical problems caused by this. Companies need to take a stand and not only create a sexual harassment policy, but continually enforce it. This will not only save their reputation, but save them money by reducing the risk of a lawsuit.


Employment Law. Home page. 29 November 2000.


Roberts, Barry S., and Richard A. Mann. Essay. 29 November 2000.



Roberts, Barry S., and Richard A. Mann. Essay. 29 November 2000.


Roberts, Barry S., and Richard A. Mann. Essay. 29 November 2000.