History and Evolution
In years past an employee or potential employee did not have many rights concerning discrimination by an employer. However, in 1964, the federal government adopted and passed The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Contained within this act is Title VII, which states that employers are barred from discriminating against any person with respect to compensation or other terms and conditions of employment on the basis of that person's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. As more and more women have entered the workforce in the last several decades, there has been a heightened awareness of the problem of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of which Title VII came in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and the turmoil of the South, was predominately about racial fairness for blacks, not gender equality of women. The later addition of sexual discrimination is not particularly helpful in determining what Congress had in mind when it added protection for discrimination based on sex.
Impact of Title VII
It is extremely important that the rules of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) are clearly understood within the workplace. Today, organizations must be equally concerned about any behavior that may have the effect of being discriminatory. Title VII has forced organizations to have stronger human resource management teams and corporate lawyers to sort through existing and future company policies. This creates an additional financial burden for the organization. Based on documented Title VII litigation from other organizations, many companies try to tailor their policies around the outcome. The U.S. Supreme Court has recently decided two important cases in the area of sexual harassment and gender discrimination: Gebser v. Lago Vista Ind. School District and Desert Palace Inc. dba. Caesar's Palace Hotel & Casino. The decision was made that school districts could not be held liable for teachers' sexual harassment of a student under Title IX, unless school officials knew about the problem and failed to take appropriate remedial action; men were able to hold wait staff positions at Caesar's Palace regardless of financial increase of women waiters. In previous cases, courts have distinguished between two types of supervisory sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo harassment, where the supervisor conditions some job benefit or detriment upon a subordinate's acceptance of sexual advances or favors; and (2) hostile environment harassment, where the supervisor subjects a subordinate to sexual comments, gestures, or advances which are sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the conditions of the employee's employment. In these two recent decisions, the Supreme Court clarified the standards for employer liability in such situations:
If a supervisor subjects a subordinate employee to some negative job action based upon the employee's acceptance or rejection of his/her sexual advances, the company will be automatically liable for that supervisor's harassing conduct. It is irrelevant in such a situation whether the company maintained an anti-harassment policy or whether the victim complained to management, and no affirmative defense is available to the employer in such cases.
Where a supervisor acts in a manner which creates a hostile work environment for a subordinate employee, but does not take any negative job action against that employee, and where the conduct is extreme, severe or pervasive, the employer will be held liable for sexual harassment unless it can meet the requirements of the employer exercising reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior; and the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.
Covered and Not Covered
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its...
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