Kimberly Ellerth quit her job as a sales person at Burlington Industries after working there for 15 months. Her reasoning was that her supervisor, Ted Slowik, was sexually harassing her. Ellerth did not inform any other supervisors, and therefore the company was unaware of Slowik’s actions with Ellerth. Despite her refusals with Slowik’s advances, Ellerth did not suffer any tangible retaliation. Ellerth challenged Burlington claiming that the company forced her constructive discharge. Ellerth filed in violation of Title VII with sexual harassment under a hostile work environment and quid pro quo.
The District Court granted Burlington summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed and opined that Burlington was liable. Burlington appealed to the Supreme Court. Can an employee, who despite refusing sexual harassment advances by a supervisor, and suffers no unwelcomed job-related consequences, claim a case against an employer under Title VII, without showing that the employer was responsible for the supervisor’s harassing conduct? An employee being sexually harassed by superiors can claim a case against the employer without being negligence or fault by the employer.
Employers are vicariously liable for supervisors who create hostile work environments for those over whom they have authority. In cases where harassed employees suffer no job-related consequences, employers may defend themselves against liability by showing they were not at fault for the supervisors actions. An employer is subject to liability for the torts of its employees acting outside the scope of their employment. An employer is negligent, and therefore subject to liability, if it knew or should have known about sexual harassment and failed to stop it (R. 37).
Because supervisory harassment cases involve misuse of actual power, not the false impression of its existence, apparent authority analysis is inappropriate Supreme Court agreed with Court of Appeals on Burlington being liable for its supervisors who create hostile working conditions for those over whom they have authority. If a supervisor creates a hostile work environment, he does not act for the employer. An employer should be liable only if it has been negligent.
That is, liability should attach only if the employer either knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, about the hostile work environment and failed to take remedial action. Sexual harassment can’t simply be prevented without taking extraordinary measures (R. 250). I agree more with the dissent rather than the Supreme Court’s ruling. I feel like some people may be too scared to come forward and file a complaint on sexual harassment.
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Topic: Burlington Industries V. Ellerth
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