Six cases: Match your decision with that of the judge Examples were taken from actual court cases.

October 21, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

The six situations here are from actual sexual harassment cases filed by women. Test your judgment, then read on learn what the courts decided.

1. You start working at a bank. At first, your boss, the bank's vice president, treats you in a fatherly way. But after a while, he starts making sexual advances.

You refuse these propositions. But he continues.

Fearing you'll lose your job if you continue to decline the advances, you agree to a relationship, which includes being forced to have sex during business hours and being fondled in front of other employees. After a few years, you end your relationship with your boss and he stops making sexual advances.

The next year, you take sick leave. Two months later, you are fired for excessive use of sick leave. Your think it's because your boss is out to get you.

Will you be able to prove harassment?

2. You work in the watch repair department of a discount department store. One of the men who works near you continually asks about your sex life, the size of your husband's penis, whether you're menstruating. He puts clay-like models of male genitalia on your desk.

When you ask him to stop, he laughs, so you decide to ignore his comments and even play cards with him during lunch breaks, hoping to shut him up. You don't complain to your manager because you're afraid you'll be accused of acting seductive.

Finally, you can't take it anymore. You have a breakdown.

Have you been a victim of sexual harassment?

3. You are a technician in a veterinary clinic run by two doctors. Your schedule requires that you work occasional weekends and holidays with one of the veterinarians.

One day, you and your usual supervisor take a break in the employee lounge. Your supervisor puts his arm around you and attempts to kiss you. You push him away, tell him you don't like his advances and leave the room.

You stay to finish your shift but you report the incident to the other veterinarian. He tells you that you'll have to watch yourself around men because you have a cute, bubbly personality.

This instance is disconcerting enough that you quit your job. Do you have a sexual harassment case?

4. You are a civilian dispatcher in a police department, one of three women in an office with 50 male police officers. You expect off-color jokes, and even join in. But the two other women quit and the conduct escalates. The men regularly call you lewd names. One officercrawls under the desk to look up your dress. They go hunting and leave a male bear's sex organs on your desk. They snap your bra strap as they go by. You complain that the atmosphere has changed, but the chief does nothing. You quit. Can you win a sexual harassment case?

5. You work as a waitress in an airport bar. Your boss decides to put the waitresses in sexy uniforms. You protest. Is this sexual harassment?

6. You are an inspector at a factory, one of the few women working the night shift. The men working on the line start harassing you. They give you a nickname picked up from a porno star. They tape an ad for one of her films on your back without your knowledge. When you complain to a supervisor, he joins in the antics. You're handcuffed to your desk. Finally, one man draws a nude picture of a headless woman with bright red pubic hair. (You are a redhead.) Your unwanted nickname is written below the picture. You quit. Can you win a sexual harassment claim?


The cases described above are real. Here's how they turned out when argued in court:

1. Yes. In this landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the boss created a hostile work environment for the employee and that creating such an environment qualified as sexual harassment.

2. No. The defense argued that the woman was not distressed by the remarks because she played cards with him at lunch. The jury agreed. It ruled that the man's comments were inappropriate, but that they were not unwelcome and so didn't constitute sexual harassment. The case is on appeal.

3. Yes. In May 1991, the Michigan Court of Appeals made a landmark decision in this case, establishing the "reasonable woman" standard, which created a gender-conscious review of sexual harassment.

"The standard is not whether he gives you the creeps. It's whether he would give a mythical 'reasonable woman' the creeps," says Detroit attorney Elaine Frost, who handles sexual harassment cases.

The court also said that one incident was sufficient to create a hostile work environment.

4. Yes. Attorneys for the police department argued that the woman previously had participated in the swearing and lewd conduct. But the jury believed that the dispatcher had been subjected to such a hostile environment that she could not do her job.

5. Yes. The waitresses said wearing the sexy uniforms would place them in a sexually explicit situation, literally giving patrons license to make unwelcome advances. The court ruled in their favor.

6. Yes. The woman was forced to work in a hostile environment and that's sexual harassment.

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