Wednesday, November 29, 2017
In the flood of harassment news the last few weeks, one of the themes that has emerged is that the guys involved got away with bad behavior for a really long time. For at least some of them, the lecherous behavior was something of an open secret in their workplaces or communities. There are a number of reasons that this conduct went on for so long, but one that isn't being addressed as much is how the legal threshold for actionable harassment leaves room for so much bad conduct. This is why the fantastic editorial in the New York Times, Boss Grab your Breasts? That's Not (Legally) Harassment by Sandra Sperino (Cincinnati) and Suja Thomas (Illinois) is so important and timely.
Sandra and Suja trace the development of the severe or pervasive standard the Court adopted in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, through the lower courts, noting the margins--what is clearly actionable and what is clearly inactionable--leave a large middle ground. In that middle ground, courts lean towards dismissal. This is just one more important way that Sandra and Suja are documenting how the legal rules governing discrimination claims have moved to systematically disadvantage workers.