Sexual Attraction Not Necessary For Harassment Claim

Actions constituting sexual harassment or those that create a hostile work environment can take many forms such as lewd comments, inappropriate touching, and sexually explicit joke telling. Despite the sexual nature of the harassment – actual sexual desire or attraction need not exist to support an inference of sexual discrimination.

In a recent sexual harassment case, Rosario v. Dep’t of Army, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit court ruled that the lower court’s focus on whether a sexual attraction between the harasser and the employee existed was misdirected. Citing Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75 (1998), the court noted that no requirement exists that the hostile acts be overtly sex- or gender-specific in content, whether marked by language, by sex or gender stereotypes, or by sexual overtures. Rather, circumstantial evidence showing a hostile work environment is sufficient.

In Rosario, the supervisor’s actions in commenting on an employee’s body and underwear everyday, calling co-workers’ attention to her body and underwear and repeating sexually oriented jokes could create an inference that the superior’s behavior was improperly motivated by gender. As a result, the Court held that a reasonable jury could find that the employee was exposed to harassment that differed in both kind and degree from that imposed on male employees.

Here, the supervisor created a work environment that ultimately harmed a female employee’s emotional stability and health. Whether the supervisor had a crush or was attracted to the employee was irrelevant to the existence of a hostile environment.

If you have been subject to ongoing unwelcome comments and harassment that you believe has altered the terms and conditions of your employment, you may be able to file a claim for sexual harassment. For more information, please contact Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP, a Georgia law firm dedicated to protecting individuals from workplace discrimination.