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Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs.

Supreme Court of the United States

December 3, 1997, Argued ; March 4, 1998, Decided

No. 96-568


 [**1000]   [***205]   [*76]  JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

 This case presents the question whether workplace harassment can violate Title VII's prohibition against "discrimination . . . because of . . . sex," 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), when the harasser and the harassed employee are of the same sex.

 The District Court having granted summary judgment for respondent, we must assume the facts to be as alleged by petitioner Joseph Oncale. The precise details are irrelevant  [*77]  to the legal point we must decide, and in the interest of both brevity and dignity we shall describe them only generally. In late October 1991, Oncale was working for respondent Sundowner Offshore Services on a Chevron U.S.A., Inc., oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. He was employed as a roust [**1001]  about on an eight-man crew which included respondents John Lyons, Danny Pippen, and Brandon Johnson. Lyons, the crane operator, and Pippen, the driller, had supervisory authority, App. 41, 77, 43. On [****4]  several occasions, Oncale was forcibly subjected to sex-related, humiliating actions against him by Lyons, Pippen and Johnson in the presence of the rest of the crew. Pippen and Lyons also physically assaulted Oncale in a sexual manner, and Lyons threatened him with rape.

Oncale's complaints to supervisory personnel produced no remedial action; in fact, the company's Safety Compliance Clerk, Valent Hohen, told Oncale that Lyons and Pippen [***206]  "picked [on] him all the time too," and called him a name suggesting homosexuality. Id., at 77. Oncale eventually quit -- asking that his pink slip reflect that he "voluntarily left due to sexual harassment and verbal abuse." Id., at 79. When asked at his deposition why he left Sundowner, Oncale stated "I felt that if I didn't leave my job, that I would be raped or forced to have sex." Id., at 71.

Oncale filed a complaint against Sundowner in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleging that he was discriminated against in his employment because of his sex. Relying on the Fifth Circuit's decision in Garcia v. Elf Atochem North America, 28 F.3d 446, 451-452 (CA5 1994), the district court held [****5]  that "Mr. Oncale, a male, has no cause of action under Title VII for harassment by male co-workers." App. 106. On appeal, a panel of the Fifth Circuit concluded that Garcia was binding Circuit precedent, and affirmed. 83 F.3d 118 (1996). We granted certiorari. 117 S. Ct. 2430, 138 L. Ed. 2d 192 (1997). [*78]  

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523 U.S. 75 *; 118 S. Ct. 998 **; 140 L. Ed. 2d 201 ***; 1998 U.S. LEXIS 1599 ****; 66 U.S.L.W. 4172; 76 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 221; 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P45,175; 98 Cal. Daily Op. Service 1511; 98 Daily Journal DAR 2100; 1998 Colo. J. C.A.R. 949; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 365



Disposition: 83 F.3d 118, reversed and remanded.


harassment, sex, workplace, sexual, same-sex, sexual harassment, courts, same sex, discriminate, conditions, hostile, terms

Labor & Employment Law, Disparate Treatment, Employment Practices, General Overview, Discrimination, Title VII Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Hostile Work Environment, Scope & Definitions, Sexual Harassment, Criminal Law & Procedure, Crimes Against Persons, Coercion & Harassment, Elements, Burdens of Proof, Standards of Proof, Objective & Subjective Standards, Pervasive & Severe Standards, Same-Sex Harassment, Workers' Compensation & SSDI, Course of Employment, Activities Related to Employment, Horseplay