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Sexual Harassment by Supervisors: How Well do You Know Who You Are Promoting?

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 75 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 25-32
Lisa A. Baker J.D.
Date Published
March 2006
6 pages
This article discusses liability issues of employers for the improper sexual conduct of supervisors.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court provided guidance in assessing the liability of an employer for sexually offensive conduct engaged in by supervisors within the workplace. Central to this guidance is that liability no longer is based on the type of sexual harassment that occurred, instead, the initial focus centers on whether there was a tangible employment action taken by or which can be attributed to the employer. Only in cases where no tangible action was taken will an employer be able to point to the preventive and corrective measures it has adopted or developed to defend itself. Since 1976, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted as supporting a cause of action on the part of employees against their employers for harm caused by unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature. However, due to limitations of Title VII, the types of conduct that constitute actionable sexual harassment have been narrowly construed. The Court has now taken a hard line when it comes to the accountability of the employer when supervisors engage in sexual harassment. This article discusses the extent to which employers may be liable for the improper sexual conduct of supervisors. In addition, it discusses how in some cases the employer may not even have the opportunity to offer a defense to liability.