Sexual Harassment Isn't Always the Issue

Date01 June 2008
Published date01 June 2008
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel
Volume 28 Number 2
June 2008 190-196
© 2008 Sage Publications
hosted at
Legal Brief
Sexual Harassment Isn’t Always
the Issue
Appellate Courts and Other Factors That
Contribute to a Hostile Work Environment
Stacey Mann
Doug Goodman
Mississippi State University
Discrimination has long been established by the United States Supreme Court to be uncon-
stitutional and illegal. Although the term hostile work environment is not specifically men-
tioned in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA), it has been most synonymous with claims
of sexual harassment. Have the courts expanded the hostile work environment legal theory
to include other protected classes in the CRA? This article analyzes and discusses recent
appellate court cases with a claim of hostile work environment with the basis of some
action other than sexual harassment. We explain why the courts,in the majority of cases,
did not rule in favor of those who claimed hostile work environment, and then we sum-
marize factors the courts used to determine their rulings. In addition, we provide sugges-
tions to both employees and employers.
Keywords: hostile work environment; equal employment opportunity; discrimination;
harassment; Civil Rights Act
Certain types of discrimination in the workplace have been established by the United
States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional and illegal. Not only does discrimina-
tion violate a person’s rights guaranteed under the United States Constitution, but dis-
crimination can also create a hostile work environment, causing psychological damage
to individuals and economic damage to the organization.
Over the past 20 years, the United States courts witnessed an increasing number of
cases claiming hostile work environment. Although hostile work environment once was
defined as a non-quid pro quo form of sexual harassment, the courts have seen some
changes in the use of the term. In 1986, the United States Supreme Court in Meritor
Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986) ruled that “so-called ‘hostile environment’(i.e., non-quid
Authors’Note: We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers. Their comments were most helpful. Please
address correspondence to Doug Goodman, Department of Political Science and Public Administration,
Mississippi State University, P.O. Box PC, 105 Bowen Hall, Mississippi State, MS 39762; e-mail: dg114

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