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Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Incorporated et al.


The ruling recognized that individuals have the right to file sexual harassment complaints against employers based on same-sex sexual harassment claims. The Court found that Title VII applies equally to all sexual harassment situations. The decision ensured for the first time that men taunted or abused by other men, and women harassed by women can sue for damages. The harassment must be based on gender in some manner, but not necessarily by sexual desire. Following a set of Supreme Court decisions in 1998, employers scrambled to reassess their policies and institute more vigorous training for their employees.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In 1986 the Court ruled that sexual harassment was a form of job discrimination and fell under civil rights law when leading to a job loss, or hostile working environment. Courts had recognized two types of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and hostile working environment. Quid pro quo is more straightforward by commonly involving blatant demands for sexual favors related to employment, hiring, promotion, and retention decisions. Hostile working environment harassment, recognized by the Court in 1986, is often much less clear. A hostile working environment is created when the workplace becomes filled with such persistent intimidation, ridicule, and insults that the workplace conditions are substantially changed.

In the wake of the Anita Hill accusations at Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings, many firms, particularly large corporations, established policies expressly forbidding unwelcomed advances or sexual harassment between employees. Such guidelines were written broadly enough that any behavior of a sexual nature was clearly prohibited, regardless of gender. Others, especially smaller businesses, were often less thorough in setting or enforcing policies.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentOncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Incorporated et al. - Significance, Same-sex Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault Or Horseplay, Impact, Further Readings