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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Meritor and Beyond July 19, 2011 Fatima Goss Graves Vice President for Education & Employment National Women’s Law Center. Meritor v. Savings Bank (1986).

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Meritor v savings bank 1986

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Meritor and BeyondJuly 19, 2011Fatima Goss GravesVice President for Education & EmploymentNational Women’s Law Center


Meritor v savings bank 1986
Meritor v. Savings Bank (1986)

  • Plaintiff claimed 40+ instances of sexual conduct occurred with a supervisor over a 3 year period that only ceased when plaintiff began dating a steady boyfriend

  • Sexual conduct was not a condition to obtain or maintain employment or to obtain a promotion

  • Supreme Court held: sexual harassment that leads to a hostile or offensive work environment (HWE) violates Title VII, not just quid pro quo sexual harassment


Meritor cont d
Meritor (cont’d)

  • Other key features:

    • Voluntariness of sexual conduct is not a defense; the issue is whether any alleged sexual advances were unwelcome

    • Trier of fact must look at the totality of the circumstances—including the nature and context of the sexual advances

    • Employer not automatically liable for supervisor’s conduct under respondeat superior


Harris v forklift systems 1993
Harris v. Forklift Systems (1993)

  • Plaintiff subjected to gender-based insults and unwanted sexual innuendos

  • Supreme Court held: standard for an actionable hostile work environment—conduct must be severe or pervasive but does not have to lead to injury or psychological harm


Oncale v sundowner offshore services 1998
Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998)

  • Male plaintiff subjected to harassment by male supervisors; complaints to supervisors received no response; plaintiff eventually quit

  • Supreme Court held: nothing in Title VII or court precedent excludes same-sex harassment—prior law merely prohibits a hostile work environment


Burlington industries v ellerth 1998
Burlington Industries v. Ellerth (1998)

  • Plaintiff subjected to 15 months of constant sexual harassment by a supervisor, refused all sexual advances, and did not report conduct

  • Plaintiff did not suffer any adverse job consequences

  • Supreme Court held: plaintiff could not state quid pro quo claim because no tangible job consequences; employer could be held vicariously liable under HWE claim


Crawford v metropolitan government of nashville 2001
Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville (2001)

  • Plaintiff participated in employer’s internal investigation and reported the multiple instances in which a supervisor had sexually harassed her

  • Plaintiff was subsequently fired

  • Supreme Court held: prohibition against retaliation extended from employees who report workplace discrimination on their own to include employees who report workplace discrimination during an employer’s internal investigation

    • Participation in internal investigation considered within the “opposition clause” of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision


Harris v city of baltimore 4th cir 2011
Harris v. City of Baltimore(4th Cir. 2011)

  • Plaintiff subjected to profane, sexually explicit language, coworkers’ conversations about sexual activity, and provocative pictures of women displayed in her workplace

  • Fourth Circuit held: critical inquiry is whether the plaintiff’s environment was hostile and not whether conduct was directed at the plaintiff