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Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson

Supreme Court of the United States

March 25, 1986, Argued ; June 19, 1986, Decided

No. 84-1979

Opinion

 [*59]  [***55]  [**2401]    JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents important questions concerning claims of workplace "sexual harassment" brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq.

In 1974, respondent Mechelle Vinson met Sidney Taylor, a vice president of what is now petitioner Meritor Savings Bank  [**2402]  (bank) and manager of one of its branch offices. When respondent asked whether she might obtain employment at the bank, Taylor gave her an application, which she completed and returned the next day; later that same day Taylor called her to say that she had been hired. With Taylor as her supervisor, respondent started as a teller-trainee, and thereafter was promoted to teller, head teller, and assistant  [*60]  branch manager. She worked at the same  [****6]  branch for four years, and it is undisputed that her advancement there was based on merit alone. In September 1978, respondent notified Taylor that she was taking sick leave for an indefinite period. On November 1, 1978, the bank discharged her for excessive use of that leave.

Respondent brought this action against Taylor and the bank, claiming that during her four years at the bank she had "constantly been subjected to sexual harassment" by Taylor in violation of Title VII. She sought injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages against Taylor and the bank, and attorney's fees.

At the 11-day bench trial, the parties presented conflicting testimony about Taylor's behavior during respondent's employment. 2 Respondent testified that during her probationary period as a teller-trainee, Taylor treated her in a fatherly way and made no sexual advances. Shortly thereafter, however, he invited her out to dinner and, during the course of the meal, suggested that they go to a motel to have sexual relations. At first she refused, but out of what she described as fear of losing her job she eventually agreed. According to respondent, Taylor thereafter made repeated demands upon her [****7]  for sexual favors, usually at the branch, both during and after business hours; she estimated that over the next several years she had intercourse with him some 40 or 50 times. In addition, respondent testified that Taylor fondled her in front of other employees, followed her into the women's restroom when she went there alone, exposed himself to her, and even forcibly raped her on several occasions. These activities ceased after  [***56]  1977, respondent stated, when she started going with a steady boyfriend.

Respondent also testified that Taylor touched and fondled other women employees of the bank, and she attempted to  [*61]  call witnesses to support this charge. But while some supporting testimony apparently was admitted without objection, the District Court did not allow her "to present wholesale evidence of a pattern [****8]  and practice relating to sexual advances to other female employees in her case in chief, but advised her that she might well be able to present such evidence in rebuttal to the defendants' cases." Vinson v. Taylor, 22 EPD para. 30,708, p. 14,693, n. 1, 23 FEP Cases 37, 38-39, n. 1 (DC 1980). Respondent did not offer such evidence in rebuttal. Finally, respondent testified that because she was afraid of Taylor she never reported his harassment to any of his supervisors and never attempted to use the bank's complaint procedure.

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477 U.S. 57 *; 106 S. Ct. 2399 **; 91 L. Ed. 2d 49 ***; 1986 U.S. LEXIS 108 ****; 54 U.S.L.W. 4703; 40 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1822; 40 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P36,159

MERITOR SAVINGS BANK, FSB v. VINSON ET AL.

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

Disposition:  243 U. S. App. D. C. 323, 753 F.2d 141, affirmed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

sexual harassment, sexual, district court, harassment, employees, hostile environment, notice, cases, sex, sexual advances, courts, employer liability, discriminatory, supervisory, unwelcome, workplace, work environment, working environment, hostile, circumstances, subordinates, conditions, offensive, sexual harassment claim, agency principles, sexual relations, decisions, grievance, advances, tangible

Business & Corporate Compliance, Protection of Rights, Federally Assisted Programs, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Labor & Employment Law, Discrimination, Actionable Discrimination, General Overview, Gender & Sex Discrimination, Employment Practices, Compensation, Sexual Harassment, Compensation Discrepancies, Scope & Definitions, Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Sexual Harassment, Quid Pro Quo, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sexual Assault, Abuse of Adults, Racial Harassment, Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof, Pervasive & Severe Standards, Crimes Against Persons, Coercion & Harassment, Elements, Same-Sex Harassment, Title VII Discrimination, Defenses, Consent, Employers, Racial Discrimination, Scope & Definitions, Real Property Law, Environmental Regulations, Liabilities & Risks, Contractual Relationships, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Employer Liability, Harassment by Coworkers, Harassment by Supervisors, Employment Relationships, At Will Employment, Definition of Employers, Regulators, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission