As we have mentioned many times on this blog, the main federal law dealing with sexual harassment is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act was a groundbreaking law that, among other things, outlawed many types of discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin and sex.
If you are unfamiliar with this law, you may be wondering how sexual harassment falls under the purview of the same law that prohibits racial discrimination. In this post, we will discuss why sexual harassment is a form of discrimination on the basis of sex.
Two forms of sexual harassment
Federal law recognizes two main forms of sexual harassment in the workplace. The first is quid pro quo sexual harassment, which involves unwanted sexual advances or demands for sexual favors in exchange for preferential treatment at work. The second is hostile workplace sexual harassment, in which unwanted, sexually based comments and conduct are extremely pervasive in the workplace, making workers feel threatened or uncomfortable.
Note that a hostile work environment might involve pervasive comments that are related to sexuality, but it doesn’t necessarily involve sexual desire. It may also involve derogatory comments about one sex, or a series of policies that discriminate against one sex.
For instance, a sexually hostile work environment might be a workplace where managers, co-workers or even customers are constantly making disparaging remarks about women. In this type of environment, female employees feel unwelcome, undervalued and perhaps unsafe.
However, it’s important to note that, to be considered illegal, the harassment doesn’t necessarily have to come from someone of the opposite sex. The idea is that the victims of the harassment feel targeted because of their sex.
Cases of sexual harassment are extremely fact-sensitive, meaning that the outcome of a case depends on the exact circumstances of what went on in that workplace.
Workers who feel they have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace have rights. An experienced employment law attorney can explain how the law may treat the unique facts of their case.