Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination within the workplace. In line with this, according to the Supreme Court’s Decision in the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, cases of sexual harassment occur during instances wherein a form of sex discrimination occurs. Three primary elements must be specified in order to consider a particular act as a sexual assault: (1) the disputed behavior was gender-based; (2) the behavior was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile environment; and (3) the employer is liable for the behavior (Kleiman, Cass, & Samson, 2004, p. 54).
It is important to note that there are two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment. The difference between the two lies in the nature of the circumstance involved. In quid pro quo harassment, the employee is required by another individual to provide sexual favors in order to enable the continuance or growth of the career of the employee involved. Hostile environment harassment, on the other hand, occurs during instances wherein another individual’s sexual behavior leads to the interference of an employee’s work performance thereby leading to the creation of an intimidating and hostile environment.
The above-mentioned distinction between the two forms of sexual harassment, are based upon the circumstance of the act involved, another distinction between the two, however, can be gleaned in relation to their effects to the individuals involved. In the former type of sexual harassment, the result of the act may be in favor to the individual involved. In the later form of sexual harassment, the act tends to impede the development of the individual involved as it leads to the creation of a hostile atmosphere within the workplace.
It is important to note that the occurrence of sexual harassment within the workplace does not merely cause harm upon the individuals but it also causes harm upon the organization or institution in which such incidents occur. The Labor Department has noted that these incidents have led to the loss of millions of dollars from companies due to its ensuing effects amongst the other members of the workforce such as “loss of productivity, absenteeism, and low employee turnover” (Kleiman, Cass, & Samson, 2004, p. 54).
Due to the widespread character of the incident, employers have placed into consideration the formulation of company guidelines and principles that enable the prevention of such incidents. The reasons for such actions, however, does not merely lie in the current statistical rise of information regarding the occurrence of such incidents but they also stem from the recognition that the implementation of such guidelines and principles minimizes the occurrence of low productivity resulting from incidents of sexual harassment. In lieu of this, this paper will discuss a scenario in which sexual harassment [of the hostile environment type] occurred. Such a discussion will pave the way for the elucidation of the conditions existing within cases of sexual harassment.
A male corporate sales supervisor (Frank) talks to a female sales associate (Mary) regarding an account within the company break room. During the conversation, Frank hinted that certain persuasive means were employed by Mary in order to get the account. At the end of the conversation, Frank implied that Mary is obliged to meet him for dinner so as not to lose the account. Mary refused and went to the Human Resource Office immediately.
Analysis of the Scenario
In the scenario mentioned above, when Mary walked away, Frank has already insinuated that Mary should give him some sexual favors before he will sign off the expense reports of Mary. While it may be argued that Frank did not explicitly ask for such sexual favors, such may implied from the facts that he approached Mary in a manner which made the distance between them seemed awkward, that he insisted on a dinner meeting beyond office hours, that he tacitly said that he will not sign the expense reports if Mary will not give in, and that he capped his approach with the words ‘if you know what I mean’. Such meaningful verbal statements and unwelcome approaches can already constituted sexual harassment. It is not even necessary that the victim suffered any injury (Harris vs. Forklift).
Furthermore, the fact that Frank is not the direct supervisor of Mary, hence, there is no ascendancy between them, is not material or relevant in considering his liability. In relation to the conduct between employees, Chapter XIV of the Federal Law states that an employer is accountable during instances wherein the employer [whether an agent or supervisor] takes no heed of a reported sexual harassment if it failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action for the reported incident. This fact thereby renders moot and academic the question whether or not Frank abused his power, authority and trust as a supervisor.
Considering the situation mentioned above, the recommended mode of action for Mary is as follows. If she believes that, the employer is well intentioned but unaware, a possible course of action to adhere to would be to utilize the grievance complaint filed in the office at court. The importance of doing such is partly due to the dependence of receiving recovery damages from submitting the aforementioned complaint. Thus, Mary should first comply with the grievance procedure established by her employer.
In case there is no such grievance procedure or in case it fails to work, she may file a claim before any appropriate state agency. In case there is no such state agency, she may file her claim before the Federal agency, which is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the process of formulating complaints, it is necessary that any complaint she makes is documented so that they may be utilized in court during the trial period if such is the case that the complaint was not well addressed in the institution of her employment (Sexual Harassment Center, 1995). Furthermore, it is necessary that Mary consult an attorney that specializes on cases regarding sexual harassment.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The proliferation of sexual harassment cases within various institutions is a cause for alarm as far as it mirrors the manner in which certain forms of sex-based discrimination continually pervade within society. Furthermore, it also leads to the degradation of productivity within the workplace. In order to prevent such instances there is a need for organizations to create policies that are strict on incidents of sexual harassment.
It has been proven, for example, that a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy enabled the reduction of sexual harassment cases within a company (2001, p.6). Such programs may enable the encouragement of substantial punitive measures that enables employees to be fully aware of the nature of the offense. Furthermore, such programs should enable the institution of procedural rules and methods that ensures the safety of their employees in cases wherein harassment occurs. In relation to this, programs should be created that enable the dissemination of information regarding the above-mentioned policies. Such actions should be performed by organizations in order not merely top prevent incidents of sexual harassment but also in order to promote equality within the workplace.
It should be recognized by companies and organizations that cases of sexual harassment does not merely occupy the social sphere but also the personal sphere thereby the importance of enabling programs that ensures its prevention ensures the development of discourses that opt for the development and furtherance of equality in both the private and public spheres.
Gardner, S. & Johnson, P. (2001). “Sexual Harassment in Healthcare: Strategies for Employers. Hospital Topics 79:4: 5-12.
Kleiman, L., Kass, D., & Samson, Y. (2004). “Sexual Harassment and the Law: Court Standards for Assessing Hostile Environment Claims.” Journal of Individual Employment Rights, 11.1, 53-73.
Supreme Court (1986). Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 40 FEP 182.
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