Sexual Harrassment

Sexual Harrassment History & the Law Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Federal law as well as various state fair-employment laws prohibit employers with 15 or more employees from treating members of one sex or race differently from members of the opposite sex or another race in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. The statutory and regulatory laws govern the entire employment process from pre-employment activities such as recruiting, through an employee’s career with the organization, including termination. The prohibition against sex discrimination imposes responsibility upon employers to afford their employees an environment free from sexual harassment and from the fear that it may occur. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can file lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual harassment, women who take their accusations to court face even bigger obstacles than mere public disapproval. The legal process is long and cumbersome – it can be years from the first complaint to the final verdict and in the meanwhile, the woman is in a legal, professional and often financial limbo. Women are not entitled to collect damages under the Civil Rights Act – just back pay; so many women don’t see this process as worth the trouble.

Even those, however, who do file a complaint and win a harassment case, may feel lost. Though, Title VII offers reinstatement to previous job, the individual may be shunned or harassed by co-worker thus making conditions even more uncomfortable than they were beforehand. Common law tort lawsuits, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery, provide a remedy in certain types of sexual harassment cases that is totally dependent of any of the statutes and governmental agencies. However, the solutions proposed might seem comprehensive in plans to lessen sexual harassment in the workplace and punishment of harassers, women still face formidable obstacles in preventing harassment from continuing. The proposed measures fail to cover all aspects of harassment, though the truth is, it is virtually impossible to formulate a plan to do so. Anti-harassment policies in the workplace can significantly lessen the occurrences of harassment by co-workers, but in reality, corporate policies are only as good as the supervisors that enforce them.

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Evidently, sexual harassment has manifested itself into the everyday work environment, and has now unfortunately become a common occurrence for some women. Though government procedure countering this problem has improved considerably over the past few years, as long as there are women in the work force, they will inevitably be subjected to the torture that is sexual harassment. Definitions Sexual Harassment is defined as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature when 1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions; or 3) such conduct has created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” There are two kinds of sexual harassments- quid pro quo (1,2) and hostile environment (3). In a quid pro quo, if it’s proven that some specified sexual conduct is a condition for some sort of employment advantage, it’s and actionable claim. If the conduct is suggested for the receipt of employee benefits, promotions, continued employment in a particular job or continued employment at all, it also is quid pro quo.

In a hostile environment, the employee must prove two things for the action in this case. First, the employee must establish that he or she was subjected to unwelcome physical and/or verbal conduct of a sexual nature. Secondly, the employee must prove that the conduct was so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interfered with the employee’s job performance, or that it created an abusive, intimidating or offensive working environment. What constitutes conduct of a sexual nature? It is understood that this includes sexual advances or propositions, but this term also refers to many other forms of indirect sexual harassment as well. The forms that such sexual harassment can take are as varied as a perverse imagination can create. Sexual conduct can also include pranks, threats and intimidation, sexual commentary and lewd humor, and sexual or pornographic pictures permeating the workplace. Hostile acts related to an employee’s gender are another type of prohibited conduct of a sexual nature, even though they may not involve sexual overtures at all.

CASE 1: Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. The sexual harassment case, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., set precedence over many earlier sexual discrimination cases in the U.S. because of the vast complexities and length of time it took for the settlement of the case. The Minnesota mining company was found liable in the first sexual harassment lawsuit, which gains class action certification and settled the 10-year-old case with its female miners. Eveleth Taconite Co. would have exposed itself to high damages if the 15 women had to testify about the pervasive sexual harassment and discrimination in the mines. Although the landmark lawsuit paved the way for future class action sex harassment suits, the plaintiffs had a tortuous legal battle that began in 1988 when they filed in Minnesota’s federal court.

The case required the women to testify during three stages of the litigation. The women’s suit claimed they were subjected to a hostile work environment that violated Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. They asked for compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction requiring Eveleth’s management to enforce policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination. The women claimed they suffered physical harassment that ranged from unwanted touching to offensive language, including threats of rape. Their male coworkers posted pornographic photographs or drew sexually explicit graffiti on the mines’ walls.

Some women miners carried mace and knives for protection. Several plaintiffs were unable to work because they developed stress disorders. The first phase determined if the lawsuit qualified as a class. The women testified about the occurrences of sexual harassment and provided statistical information that showed Eveleth did not use an objective selection process in hiring women and denied them opportunities to obtain a higher position. Although the evidence convinced a federal judge to grant class certification, the motion for an injunction was denied After the 1993 trial, a judge found for the plaintiffs in the liability phase.

The court then appointed a negotiator to determine punitive and compensatory damages. During the damages phase, Eveleth’s attorneys launched an investigation into the women’s backgrounds and required them to testify. The women countered with psychological experts who testified about how the harassment had affected them. Despite this testimony, the special master found the women might have been exaggerating and awarded a low compensatory figure and no punitive damages. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Court threw out the special master’s decision and ordered a full trial on the damages issue.

“In its decision, the court wrote, It should be obvious that the callous pattern and practice of sexual harassment engaged in by the Eveleth Mines inevitably destroyed the self-esteem of the working women exposed to it. The emotional hardship, brought about by this record of human indecency, sought to destroy the human psyche as well as the human spirit of each plaintiff. The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable. Although money damages cannot make these women whole or even begin to repair the injury done, a damages award can serve to set a precedent that in the environment of the workplace such hostility will not be tolerated.” As the women and Eveleth battled, the number of sexual harassment cases increased nationwide, and the legal community got better at trying these cases. This sparked a new common ground that sexual harassment will not be permitted and under no circumstances will the courts allow this discrimination to go on.

CASE 2: EEOC v. Mitsubishi Automobiles On April 10, the EEOC had filed a lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of female employees who work at Mitsubishi’s Normal, Illinois, car-manufacturing plant. The suit alleges that hundreds of women were sexually harassed over several years, but the company did little or nothing about their complaints. The EEOC’s lawsuit argues that as many as 700 women, including secretaries, line workers and clerical workers, were routinely fondled, abused and subjected to a hostile work environment. The suit seeks back pay with interest and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages. Soon after the EEOC’s lawsuit, 29 women who work at the same plant filed a complaint in federal court alleging that they were sexually harassed.

They say men at the plant passed around photographs of male Mitsubishi workers having sex with prostitutes at parties. Many of these men frequented such parties after the pictures were made. The women were groped and subjected to raunchy insults and pranks. They complained that male co-workers and supervisors kissed and fondled women, called them whores and bitches, posted sexual graffiti and pictures, including pornographic drawings of the women workers, demanded sexual favors and retaliated against women who refused. Mitsubishi spokespeople say the firm is innocent of all charges and has actively sought the support of its workforce in rallying against the sexual-harassment allegations.

Mitsubishi Motors will pay $34 million to settle allegations that women on the assembly line at its Illinois factory were harassed, groped and insulted. The 350 women who have worked at the auto plant since 1987 will share the settlement. The women will receive anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $350,000 each. The settlement agreement between Mitsubishi and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission contained no admission of wrongdoing by the company. Mitsubishi said 20 workers were fired in 1997 for sexual harassment and several others were disciplined.

CASE 3: Lelia Bush v. Astra AB A pharmaceutical company recently agreed to pay $9.85 million to settle claims that its president and other executives pressure female employees for sex. The settlement is the largest ever obtained by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The original complaint was filed by Lelia Bush, a former Astra USA sales representative, who said women were constantly solicited for sexual favors while she worked there. Astra AB, a Swedish company, admitted that it allowed a hostile work environment, including requests for sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment, at its U.S. headquarters. “The EEOC charged that the company’s former president, Lars Bildman, replaced older female employees with young, single women who were pressured to have sex.

Former employees said the president demanded that eight hours of work be followed by eight hours of drinking and partying,” according to the Associated Press. Bildman, who was accused of spending company money for his sexual fetishes, was fired in 1996. The $9.85 million will be split among 79 women and a man who said he was for speaking out. Case(s) Evaluat …


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