To establish a claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment, an employee must prove that the sexual harassment was either sufficiently severe or sufficiently pervasive.
It can be difficult to point out what the courts will and will not consider as sufficiently pervasive sexual harassment. The courts have indicated that a sufficiently pervasive sexual harassment case must show a concerted pattern of harassment of a repeated, routine, or generalized nature.
It can be difficult to figure out which situations will pass the “sufficiently pervasive test” and which will not. Below are some cases in which the courts ruled that the sexual harassment was sufficiently pervasive.
Case in Point: Offensive Sexual References
In Steiner v. Showboat Operating Company, the Ninth Circuit found conduct sufficient to constitute a hostile work environment where the defendant had used the terms “dumb f-ing broad” and “f-ing c—-.” Even though the supervisor in that case was shown to be abusive to men, his abuse of women was different in that he relied on “sexual epithets, offensive, explicit references to women’s bodies and sexual conduct.”
Similarly, in Burns v. McGregor Electronic Industries, Inc., the Eighth Circuit Court stated that vulgar and offensive phrases are “widely recognized as not only improper, but as intensely degrading.”
Case in Point: Vulgar Slurs
In Katz v. Dole, a female air traffic controller was subjected to an unlawful hostile work environment where her coworker had routinely inflicted extremely vulgar and offensive sexual slurs and insults.
Case in Point: Pornographic Pictures
In Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, the defendant used derogatory and insulting terms relating to women and posted pornographic pictures in common areas at the place of employment. The Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeal found: “pervasive use of derogatory and insulting terms relating to women generally and addressed to female employees personally may serve as evidence of a hostile work environment.”
Case in Point: Nicknames and Centerfolds
In Lispett v. University of Puerto Rico, sexual harassment was found where the plaintiff and other female residents were given sex-based nicknames, Playboy centerfolds were displayed where residents ate their meals and conducted meetings, and misogynistic verbal attacks were repeatedly made.
Case in Point: Verbal Abuse and Touching
In Hall v. Gus Const. Co., Inc., the plaintiff suffered from continuous verbal abuse, requests for sex, unwanted touching at work, and urinating in the plaintiff’s water bottles and gas tank. This pattern of continuous harassment constitutes unlawful hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Case in Point: Repeated Requests for Sex
In Yates v. Avco Corp., the plaintiff’s supervisors constantly made rude comments to her and repetitively made requests for sexual favors, and this created an unlawful hostile work environment.
In Henson v. City of Dundee, an unlawful hostile work environment was found where a police chief made numerous tirades, used vulgar language, and made demeaning sexual inquiries, as well as repeatedly asking the plaintiff to have sexual relations with him.
In Bundy v. Jackson, the plaintiff’s supervisors directed sexual propositions, sexual stereotypes and vulgar language at her, such as “any man in his right mind would want to rape you.” The court found that such misconduct constitutes an unlawful hostile work environment.