Sexual or racial harassment claims are different from disparate treatment claims involving the terms
and conditions of employment.
US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines the sexual harassment as follows:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a
sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when
- submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an
individual’s employment or academic advancement,
- submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment
decisions or academic decisions affecting such individual, or
- such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or
academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic
What Should You Do If Harassed?
1) You must oppose or protest. Tell the harasser to stop. Let him or her know that you are offended
and cannot tolerate the harassment. (Leave a paper trail.) 2) If harassment continues, you must report
to your supervisor. If the harasser is your supervisor, report to someone higher or to the human
resources director. If the harasser is the highest ranking individual in the company, protest and report
to the human resources director or any other management personnel. (Leave a paper trail.) 3) If
harassment continues despite having taken these steps, keep a running log of harassment in detail,
including what was said, what was done, where in the body, where, in what context, etc. (The devil is in
the detail when it comes to harassment claims); and record when and to whom you reported, what was
said in response to your reporting, and what steps, if any, the management took or failed to take to stop
harassment; and file a charge of discrimination. (Again, leave a paper trail carefully recording
harassing incidents, your reporting, and company's failure to act.) Retaliation against you for your
reporting or filing a harassment charge is another violation of the law. You can file a retaliation charge
in addition to the harassment/discrimination charge.
What Must an Employer Do If Harassment is Reported?
The employer should conduct a prompt and thorough investigation upon receiving a complaint of
harassment. Once harassment is found to have occurred, the employer should take the necessary and
immediate steps to cease and desist the harassment.
For an excellent information on sexual harassment issued to employees by a large company, click here
The following are excerpts from Bravo and Cassedy’s article, “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace”
(Business Ethics: Readings and Cases in Corporate Morality, 4th Ed., Hoffman, Frederick, and Schwartz
eds., (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2001), 322-335):
- “This is the essence of combating sexual harassment—creating a workplace that is built on
mutual respect” (323).
- “Who decides what behavior is offensive at the workplace? The recipient does. As long as the
recipient is ‘reasonable’ and not unduly sensitive, sexual conduct that offends him or her should
be changed” (326).
- “In some cases, the harasser presses the victim to have sex, but sexual pleasure itself is not
the goal. Instead, the harasser’s point is to dominate, to gin power over another. As University
of Washington psychologist John Gottman puts it, ‘Harassment is a way for a man to make a
woman vulnerable’” (326).
- “[Some] harassment is designed to make the woman feel out of place” (327).
- “… a large body of research conducted at workplaces and universities suggests that at least 50
percent of women—as well as a smaller percentage of men—have been sexually harassed,
either on the job or on campus. Very few people are considered to be ‘chronic harassers,’ but
most of these are not psychopaths. Many men in the workplace, whether intentionally or not,
end up encouraging or condoning harassment” (327).
- “According to a survey of Fortune 500 managers conducted by Working Woman magazine
(December 1988), false reports are rare.
- “A woman’s life can be destroyed by sexual harassment, at least for a time” (328).
- “Sexual harassment is against the law” (329).
- “An employee doesn’t have to be fired, demoted, or denied a raise or promotion to be ‘harmed’
—and to file a charge. Even if no threat is involved, unwelcome sexual conduct can have the
effect of ‘poisoning’ the victim’s work environment” (330).
- “In [some] cases, the employer is considered liable if he knew or should have known of the
harassment and did nothing to stop it” (330).
- “A single incident isn’t enough to prove the existence of a hostile environment, unless the
incident is extreme [such as touching female anatomy or an extreme insult against women]”
- “In this type of harassment, a supervisor rewards only those employees who submit to sexual
demands. The other employees, those who are denied raises or promotion, can claim that they’
re penalized by the sexual attention directed at the favored [female] co-workers” (330, the
- In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in 1977 that sexual harassment is
“illegal sex discrimination” (331). The harassment would not occur had the victims been male.
- “For the first time [in 1991], a court ruled that pornography at the workplace constituted sex
discrimination” (332), stating that “Pornography on a employer’s wall or desk communicates a
message about the way he views women, a view strikingly at odds with the way women wish to
be viewed in the workplace” (332). The court further ruled that ‘a preexisting atmosphere that
deters women from entering or continuing in a profession or job’ is as bad as ‘a sign declaring
‘Men Only’” (333).
- In the above case where the court ruled, the charging party won the law suit. She recovered
her legal fees and $1.00 in damages (333).
- “The Civil Rights Act of 1991 gives victims of sex, race, and religious discrimination the right to
sue for both compensatory and punitive damages” (333).
Sexual harassment in workplace is illegal. It must be protested and reported. If reported, the
employer must take steps to ensure immediate ceasing and desisting of harassment. Companies
may be held liable for failure to take prompt and sufficient actions to stop and to deter