California residents may have heard about the HBO film ‘Confirmation.” The film features the story of Anita Hill, a federal employee who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 and alleged that she had been the victim of workplace sexual harassment by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Though Thomas denied Hill’s allegations and ended up being appointed to the Supreme Court, the testimony drew a lot of national attention to the issue of workplace sexual harassment.
The Anita Hill film may have a lot of people looking back at the history of workplace sexual harassment laws. At the time that Anita Hill testified, there was still uncertainty in the country about what types of behaviors constituted unlawful sexual harassment. The term ‘sexual harassment” was first coined in 1975, and it wasn’t until the late 1970s that a few key court decisions confirmed that a woman had the right to sue her boss for unwanted sexual advances.
When the United States was still working out sexual harassment laws, attorney Catharine MacKinnon put forth one of the most important legal theories on the subject. She defined two distinct types of work-related sexual harassment that she named ‘quid pro quo” and ‘hostile working environment.” People alleging quid pro quo sexual harassment will state that they were offered or denied career opportunities based on their reaction to sexual harassment. Claimants in a hostile work environment case will allege that they were forced to work in an environment where sexual talk was rampant.
Judges today understand that both men and women can be victims of workplace sexual harassment. Lawyers will advise clients who have been the target of such unwanted behavior to first follow the procedures regarding complaints that are set forth in their company manual. If the results are unsatisfactory, then the next step could be the filing of a claim with the EEOC or applicable state agency.