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Harris v. Forklift

Harris Files A Lawsuit

Finally, Harris had had enough. She confronted Hardy, who insisted he had only been joking, and promised to stop his lewd behavior. Satisfied by these assurances, Hardy remained at Forklift Systems. In early September of 1987, Hardy reneged on his promise. While Harris was negotiating a deal with one of Forklift's customers, Hardy asked her, in front of other staff, "What did you do, promise the guy . . . some `bugger' Saturday night?" Harris quit her job on 1 October 1987 and filed a lawsuit, claiming that Hardy's conduct created an abusive work environment. Because Harris felt she had been harassed because of her gender, she filed charges under Title Vll of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From 1987 to 1992, Harris waged an uphill battle. Declaring this to be a "close case," the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, agreed that Hardy often was "vulgar" and "inane," but not discriminatory. The behavior would offend any "reasonable woman," but Hardy's insults were not:

so severe as to be expected to seriously affect [Harris'] psychological well-being. A reasonable woman manager under like circumstances would have been offended by Hardy, but his conduct would not have risen to the level of interfering with that woman's performance.

The judge also decided, "Although Hardy may at times have genuinely offended [Harris], I do not believe that he created a working environment so poisoned as to be intimidating or abusive to [her]." In other words, Harris had not been so traumatized--medically or psychologically--to prove harassment, a standard set by earlier federal courts of appeal. Harris's case was denied.

Undaunted, Harris took her case to the Supreme Court. The Court, which can often make the simple appear complex, did the opposite in this case. It examined a complicated question and made the answer look easy. After a four-week period, the justices reached a unanimous decision.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Harris v. Forklift - Significance, Harris Files A Lawsuit, Discrimination By Any Other Name, Justice Clarence Thomas, Further Readings