After being employed for 15 months, respondent Kimberly Ellerth quit her job as a sales person in one of the many divisions of Burlington Industries. She quit because allegedly, she was being sexually harassed by her supervisor, Ted Slowik. Ellerth pointed out instances whein Slowik threatened to deny her of work-related benefits. She had refused all of Slowik’s sexual advances and yet had not suffered any retaliation from Slowik. She was in fact promoted once. Also, she never informed anyone of these sexual advances despite knowing of Burlington’s policy against sexual harassment.
Ellerth filed a law suit alleging that Burlington engaged in sexual harassment, forcing her constructive discharge. Issue: Whether or not an employee who refused sexual advances and yet suffered no work-related adversaries can recover against her employer without showing that the employer was responsible for the harassment conduct of the supervisor? Held: Given her circumstances, she can recover from her employer as provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employer however, may interpose an affirmative defense.
Ratio: An employer may be held liable for the hostile conditions being created by supervisors whom they have authority over. In cases where there were no tangible job-related consequences, the employer, in defense, may claim that they have acted quickly in preventing such harassing behavior. Although Ellerth did not claim that she had suffered tangible consequences, which would have deprived Burlington of an affirmative defense, the Court held that Burlington is still liable for Slowik’s activity, but should have an opportunity to prove and assert its affirmative defense.