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A pattern of sexual harassment inflicted upon an employee because of her sex is a pattern of behavior that inflicts disparate treatment upon a member of one sex with respect to terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. There is no requirement that an employee subjected to such disparate treatment prove in addition that she has suffered tangible job detriment.
Barbara Henson was hired as a dispatcher in the five-officer Dundee police department on January 14, 1975. Henson claimed that during the two years she worked for the Dundee police department, she and her only other female coworker Carolyn Dicks were subjected to sexual harassment by the chief of the Dundee police department, John Sellgren. She alleged that this harassment ultimately led her to resign under duress on January 28, 1977. In May 1977 Henson filed a complaint against the City of Dundee with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.) alleging sexual harassment. The E.E.O.C. issued a right to sue letter on January 31, 1978 and Henson filed this suit in the middle district of Florida in March. At trial, Henson attempted to prove three types of sexual harassment. First, she claimed that Sellgren created a hostile and offensive working environment for women in the police station. She and her former coworker, Dicks, testified that Sellgren subjected them to numerous harangues of demeaning sexual inquiries and vulgarities throughout the course of the two years during which Henson worked for the police department. Henson stated that in addition to these periodic harangues, Sellgren repeatedly requested that she have sexual relations with him. Second, Henson also claimed that her resignation on January 28, 1977 was tantamount to a constructive discharge based upon sex in violation of Title VII. Specifically, she testified that on January 18, 1977 Sellgren suspended her for two days on the pretext that she had violated an office policy by bringing food into the dispatch room. According to Henson, this policy had not been previously enforced, and she regarded the suspension as a warning by Sellgren that she would be fired if she did not accede to his sexual requests. She therefore claimed that her resignation was involuntary. Finally, Henson claimed that Sellgren prevented her from attending the local police academy because she refused to have sexual relations with him. She testified that Sellgren made it clear to her that if she agreed to have a relationship with him, he would help her gain the approval of the city manager to attend the academy. Both Henson and Dicks testified that during this period two of the male CETA dispatchers were sent to the police academy. This testimony was corroborated by other witnesses and by the employment records of the two male dispatchers. Additionally, the city manager testified that Henson was qualified to attend the police academy and that she would have permitted Henson to attend if Sellgren had informed her of Henson's interest in the academy.At the close of Henson's case, the district court granted the city's motion to dismiss the action pursuant to rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, holding in substance that her Title VII claim could not prosper.
Did Henson’s work environment allegations state a claim under Title VII for sexual harassment?
Under certain circumstances the creation of an offensive or hostile work environment due to sexual harassment can violate Title VII irrespective of whether the complainant suffers tangible job detriment. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of gender, and seeks to remove arbitrary barriers to sexual equality at the workplace with respect to "compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Therefore, courts have held that an employer violates Title VII simply by creating or condoning an environment at the workplace which significantly and adversely affects an employee because of his race or ethnicity, regardless of any other tangible job detriment to the protected employee. Sexual harassment which creates a hostile or offensive environment for members of one sex is every bit the arbitrary barrier to sexual equality at the workplace that racial harassment is to racial equality. Surely, a requirement that a man or woman run a gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and make a living can be as demeaning and disconcerting as the harshest of racial epithets.
A plaintiff must allege and prove a number of elements in order to establish her claim that sexual harassment constitutes a hostile work environment under Title VII. These elements include the following: (1) The employee belongs to a protected group. As in other cases of sexual discrimination, this requires a simple stipulation that the employee is a man or a woman. (2) The employee was subject to unwelcome sexual harassment. (3) The harassment complained of was based upon sex. (4) The harassment complained of affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment. (5) Respondeat superior. Where the plaintiff seeks to hold the employer responsible for the hostile environment created by the plaintiff's supervisor or coworker, she must show that the employer knew or should have known of the harassment in question and failed to take prompt remedial action. In this case, Henson has made a prima facie showing of all elements necessary to establish a violation of Title VII. Dismissal of her claim was therefore erroneous. She is entitled to prove her claim on remand to the district court for a new trial.