Referring to Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc. (510.U.S. 21-22), the Court noted that it has already held that all cases of "sexually objectionable behavior" would not automatically qualify to be actionable under Title VII and that "a sexually objectionable environment must be both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive" to qualify as "altering the of the victim's employment." In Faragher, repeated sexual harassment over a considerable length of time did create a sufficiently objectionable environment.
The Court also noted that thus far, the Court of Appeals in Title VII cases had typically held, or assumed, that supervisory sexual harassment falls outside the scope of employment because it is motivated solely by individual desires and serves no purpose of the employer. Such cases were in conflict with others in which "the scope of the employment" was defined broadly to hold employers vicariously liable for employees' intentional torts, including sexual assaults that were not done to serve the employer, but "were deemed to be characteristic of its activities or a foreseeable consequence of its business." Hence, the key question here was whether "an employer can reasonably anticipate the possibility of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace." The Court felt that in the prevalent working environment a large organization such as the City should be able to anticipate the possibility of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace.
The Court also made a distinction between "peer-to-peer" (co-worker) sexual harassment and sexual harassment of lower-level employees by supervisors. It observed that cases of sexual harassment by supervisors deserved to be treated separately and more seriously because the supervisors have special authority which enhances their capacity to harass and the employer can guard against supervisory misbehavior more easily.
The Court inferred from its above stated discussion that in Faragher, the degree of hostility in the work environment had risen to "an actionable level" and was attributable to the immediate supervisors of Faragher, who was isolated from the City's higher management. It also concurred with the District Court's observation that the City had failed to disseminate its sexual harassment policy among the beach employees and that its officials failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the supervisors' harassing conduct. It concluded that the level of sexual harassment was pervasive enough and the supervisors who were responsible for the harassment were acting within the scope of their employment; hence Title VII was violated and the employers could be held responsible vicariously liable.
The Court, in a 7-2 holding, reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and remanded the case for reinstatement of the judgment of the District Court.
IMPORTANCE OF THE CASE
Faragher v. The City of Boca Raton (1998) is considered to be landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the area of sexual harassment in the workplace. This is mainly because until Faragher, the Appeal Courts in the U.S. had typically considered sexual harassment by employees in the workplace as "frolics or detours from the course of employment" which was "acting beyond the scope of their employment." As such, sexual harassment by employees (including supervisors) was deemed to fall beyond the scope of Restatement 219 (1) and absolved the employer of any vicarious liability.
Faragher constitutes an important departure from such a benign interpretation of sexual harassment by the courts and set more strict standards of judgment in future cases. It also forced the employers and supervisors to view sexual harassment more seriously and to implement policies of prevention in the workplace.
The Case, in fact, reflects the changing social attitudes towards sexual harassment in the American society. There was a time, when crass behavior by male employees in the workplace could go unchallenged or was ignored by women. Following the success of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, movements for the rights of other minorities had gained ground. By the 1990s, previous Court rulings in sexual harassment cases had become out of tune with the…