Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc., notes the growing complexities and inequities in the ever-changing case law surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace and schools.
Recent Supreme Court rulings in several sexual harassment cases set new parameters for behavior and definitions of sexual harassment in the workplace and schools. Hadassah believes that some of these changes will make it easier for an employee, who has been harassed, to file a lawsuit. However, students who are victims of sexual harassment now may be at a distinct disadvantage.
Prior to the ruling in Burlington Industries vs. Ellerth, a worker had to show evidence of the adverse effects of the harassment -- such as denial of promotions, reduction in salary, or other punitive actions taken against the worker. Now, even if the worker were treated well other than the sexual harassment, the worker may still sue. But the Court also indicated that companies should enjoy some measure of protection from lawsuits if they have a strong program in place to prevent harassment and discipline any offenders.
In Gebser vs. Lago Vista Independent School District, the Court ruled that a student must prove that the school district acted with “deliberate indifference” to a sexual harassment complaint, which makes a student’s evidentiary requirements more stringent than an employee’s. In other words, there is less responsibility for a teacher who harasses a student than for a teacher who harasses another employee.
As the largest women’s membership organization in the country, Hadassah believes that each individual has the right to study, volunteer, and/or work in an atmosphere which promotes equal opportunities and prohibits discriminatory practices, including sexual harassment. Even as the Court continues to clarify the definitions and parameters of behavior surrounding sexual harassment, we urge that employers and schools will work to create clear and comprehensive prevention strategies and disciplinary guidelines to reduce and address any incidences of sexual harassment