Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment: A Clearer View

Bennett-Alexander, Dawn D.
March 1991
Labor Law Journal;Mar91, Vol. 42 Issue 3, p131
Academic Journal
This article analyzes the concept of a hostile sexual environment in the U.S. Supreme Court case Meritor Savings Bank, FSB versus Vinson. The court's language as to what constituted a hostile sexual environment and what constituted unwelcome activity was not at all clear. Many questions were left unanswered in the Meritor decision. For several years prior to the Meritor decision, lower courts had been construing the sex category of Title VII prohibitions to include sex discrimination by way of sexual harassment. In 1980, after several such cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued sexual harassment guidelines. In its 1986 Meritor decision, the Supreme Court determined that the proscription of Title VII on discrimination because of sex did indeed include discrimination by way of sexual harassment. Consistent with the EEOC guidelines, the court decided that sexual harassment occurs in two ways: (1) as a quid pro quo, where an employee is promised some work-related benefit such as a promotion, raise, training, continued employment, and others, in exchange for sexual activity; and (2) as a hostile work environment in which unwelcome sexual advances made to the employee have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the employee's work performance. The Meritor decision indicated that an employer should have a sexual harassment policy in accordance with the EEOC guidelines. Such a policy should be separate from the employer's general anti-discrimination policy and should include a strong statement condemning sexual harassment in the workplace and should provide a method for resolving such claims in the workplace. INSET: Sexual Harassment.


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