Evolution of Sexual Harassment Prevention Law

Evolution of Sexual Harassment Prevention Law

Today we have Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others allegedly sexually assaulting their employees or associates.

Sadly, their actions were not unusual, but only until the mid-1980s, did it become against the law. (Obviously, rape and assault were always a crime, but other aspects of sexual harassment such as continuous requests for sex, were not.)

In the case of Bundy vs. Jackson, in 1970, Sandra Bundy was hired as an employee at the District of Columbia Department of Corrections [DCDC]. She was continuously promoted until she reached the position of vocational rehabilitation specialist. From 1972, however, she was sexually harassed (keep in mind, the term did not exist) by other employees and supervisors, including Delbert Jackson. Jackson later became the director of the DCDC.

Bundy was regularly harassed by her bosses and supervisors wondering about her sexual habits and wanting her to have sex with them. She complained to the harassers’ supervisors about their behavior, but was told, "any man in his right mind would want to rape you" and then propositioned her himself. And, that wasn’t the end of it. Because she complained, now her supervisors were providing her with unacceptable work performance evaluations. Bundy filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Their response to Bundy: don’t bother filing unwarranted complaints. Bundy filed anyway. She lost. Upon appeal, she won. The court stating: “…conditions of employment' include the psychological and emotional work environment.”

The court also provided definitions of unlawful sexual harassment:

To establish a prima facie case (overall view of the case) of illegal denial of promotion in retaliation against the plaintiff's refusal of sexual advances by her supervisors, the plaintiff must show (1) that she was a victim of a pattern or practice of sexual harassment attributable to her employer…; and (2) that she applied for and was denied a promotion for which she was technically eligible and of which she had a reasonable expectation. If the prima facie case is made out, the employer then must bear the burden of showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that he had legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for denying the claimant the promotion.

Next up came Meritor Savings Bank vs. Vinson.

In the 1974, Vinson was hired by Sidney Taylor a vice president at Meritor Savings Bank to be a clerk teller. She was a good worker, and was promoted often during her years with the bank. She reached the level of assistant branch manager. In 1978, Vinson, told the bank that she was going on indefinite extended sick leave. The bank fired her for excessive use of that leave.

Vinson filed a complaint claiming that she had been the victim of continuous sexual advances by Taylor, and was only able to keep her job was by responding to his advances. She claimed he made her have sex with him over 50 times, was constantly fondling her in public, and would follow her in to the ladies’ room at work (when no one else was around). Taylor and the bank denied the allegations.

Vinson’s case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, and relying on the case of Bundy vs. Jackson, not only agreed with Vinson that she had been sexually harassed in violation of the law, but that her employers at Meritor Bank were also responsible for Taylor’s action.