Surveying the Damage

Susan Grover & Kimberley Piro, Consider the Source: When the Harasser is the Boss, 79 Fordham L. Rev. 499 (2010). Kerri Stone In Consider the Source: When the Harasser is the Boss, Professor Susan Grover and Kimberley Piro raise a crucial point that should inform the always-evolving jurisprudence of sexual harassment. They argue that the identity of a sexual harasser as a supervisor or a coworker should be, but is currently not, a central consideration in the determination of whether actionable sexual harassment occurred. The article recounts the Supreme Court's requirement that actionable harassment needs to be, among other things, "sufficiently severe or pervasive 'to alter the conditions of [the victim's] employment and create an abusive working environment.'" Despite this requirement, the article observes, most sexual harassment jurisprudence fails to factor in the distinction between supervisory and other types of harassment, like coworker harassment, when ascertaining whether a victim's abuse is grave enough to warrant being deemed actionable harassment. Courts adjudicating sexual harassment cases are required to factor in the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interactions at issue, focusing on the "frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance." Lower courts nationwide, however, have repeatedly refused to find actionable harassment where the abuse was quite severe or quite pervasive. The article notes insightfully that "[t]he crucial question of the harasser's supervisory status has been one casualty of the courts' disinclination to apply a true totality of the circumstances test." (P. 507.) Continue reading "Surveying the Damage"

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