History of Sexual Harassment Law

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Act specifically stated that discrimination in employment based on sex, race, creed, national origin is illegal. Although sexual harassment was not specifically included, subsequent case law made these actions illegal.

In 1976, in the case of Williams vs. Saxbe, the Supreme Court ruled that if a female employee could prove that by rejecting a boss’s advances she was negatively impacted, the incident would be considered sex discrimination.

In 1980 and 1981, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (an organization created by the original Civil Rights Act of 1964), established guidelines regarding the definition of sexual harassment. These guidelines included to sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also in 1981, in Bundy v. Jackson the Supreme Court upheld the idea of a sexually hostile environment as a cause of action in sexual harassment.

In 1986, in Meritor Savings Bank vs. Vinson, the Supreme Court determined that even if a woman consented to having sex with her boss, the incident would be considered sexual harassment if the boss’s advances were not welcomed. The Court also ruled that the employer could be held liable if it knew about the harassment and did nothing to stop it.

In 1991, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 allowed for jury trials and increased damages in sexual harassment suits.

In 1995, The Congressional Accountability Act applied the same guidelines to members of Congress as it did to employers.

By 1999, however, the Supreme Court began cutting back on sexual harassment law. In its decision of Kunin vs. Sears Roebuck, the employee had to make sure the employer was aware of any sexual harassment in the work place.

By the early 2000s, court cases regarding sexual harassment issues continued to whittle away at the employees’ rights to relief.

Now in the fall of 2018, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee is in the process of choosing the next Supreme Court justice. With the majority members looking for a more-conservative legal point of view, will the next justice (who will tip the majority of the current Court) also whittle away employee rights in sexual harassment cases?

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