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Burlington Indus. v. Ellerth

Supreme Court of the United States

April 22, 1998, Argued ; June 26, 1998, Decided

No. 97-569


 [**2262]  [***644]  [*746]    JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

 We decide whether, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.,  [*747]  an employee who refuses the unwelcome and threatening sexual advances of a supervisor, yet suffers no adverse, tangible job consequences, can recover against the employer without showing the employer is negligent or otherwise at fault for the supervisor's actions.

 Summary judgment was granted for the employer, so we must take the facts alleged by the employee to be true. United States v. Diebold, Inc. 369 U.S. 654, 655, 8 L. Ed. 2d 176, 82 S. Ct. 993 (1962)(per curiam). The employer is Burlington Industries, the petitioner. The employee is Kimberly Ellerth, the respondent. From March 1993 until May 1994, Ellerth worked as a salesperson in one of Burlington's divisions in Chicago, Illinois. During her employment, she alleges, she was subjected to constant sexual harassment by her supervisor, one Ted Slowik.

In the hierarchy of Burlington's management [****12]  structure, Slowik was a mid-level manager. Burlington has eight divisions, employing more than 22,000 people in some 50 plants around the United States. Slowik was a vice president in one of five business units within one of the divisions. He had authority to make hiring and promotion decisions subject to the approval of his supervisor, who signed the paperwork. See 912 F. Supp. 1101, 1119, n. 14 (ND Ill. 1996). According to Slowik's supervisor, his position was "not considered an upper-level management position," and he was "not amongst the decision-making or policy-making hierarchy." Ibid. Slowik was not Ellerth's immediate supervisor. Ellerth worked in a two-person office in Chicago, and she answered to her office colleague, who in turn answered to Slowik in New York.

Against a background of repeated boorish and offensive remarks and gestures which Slowik allegedly made, Ellerth places particular emphasis on three alleged incidents where Slowik's comments could be construed as threats to deny her  [*748]  tangible job benefits. In the summer of 1993, while on a business trip, Slowik invited Ellerth to the hotel lounge, an invitation Ellerth felt compelled to accept because Slowik was [****13]  her boss. App. 155. When Ellerth gave no encouragement to remarks Slowik made about her breasts, he told her to "loosen up" and warned, "you know, Kim, I could make your life very hard or very easy at Burlington." Id. at 156.

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524 U.S. 742 *; 118 S. Ct. 2257 **; 141 L. Ed. 2d 633 ***; 1998 U.S. LEXIS 4217 ****; 66 U.S.L.W. 4634; 77 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1; 73 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P45,340; 98 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5029; 98 Daily Journal DAR 6991; 1998 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3405; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 692



Disposition: 123 F.3d 490, affirmed.


harassment, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, vicarious liability, quid pro quo, tangible, employer liability, terms, employment action, cases, agency relationship, scope of employment, sexual, aided, agency principles, court of appeals, apparent authority, threats, circumstances, employees, principles, decisions, servant's, courts, affirmative defense, pervasive, severe, employment condition, reasonable care, district court

Business & Corporate Compliance, Protection of Rights, Federally Assisted Programs, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Labor & Employment Law, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Quid Pro Quo, Employer Liability, Harassment by Supervisors, Torts, Vicarious Liability, Employers, General Overview, Business & Corporate Law, Duties & Liabilities, Authorized Acts of Agents, Liability of Principals, Negligent Acts of Agents, Intentional Torts, Activities & Conditions, Intentional Torts, Acts Outside Scope of Authority, Agents Distinguished, Independent Contractors, Masters & Servants, Masters & Servants, Authority to Act, Apparent Authority, Unlawful Acts of Agents, Scope of Employment, Factors, Personal Activities, Civil Rights Law, Defenses, Antiharassment Policy, Burdens of Proof, Employee Burdens of Proof