Burlington vs Ellerth

HRM Burlington Northern Industries v. ELLERTH, 524 U. S. 742 (1998). U S Supreme Court Facts: Kimberly Ellerth worked in Burlington’s Chicago office from March 1993 through May 1994, first as a merchandising assistant and later as a sales representative. Theodore Slowik was a New York based Vice-President of sales and marketing, supervising Ellerth’s immediate supervisors. Slowik made primarily the decision as to Ellerth’s hire and subsequent promotion. Ellerth spoke with Slowik when he traveled to her Chicago office and when she traveled to business related conferences in New York and elsewhere.

Ellerth was required to get Slowik’s approval of special sales to her customers. Soon after Ellerth began working for Burlington, Slowik began to subject Ellerth to harassing acts and comments, coupled with threats that her refusal to submit would result in retaliation. For example, in the summer of 1993, Slowik made a series of comments about Ellerth’s legs and breasts. Ellerth never gave Slowik’s any indication that she was interested in him. Nonetheless, he continued to subject her to unwanted touching of her body. Ellerth resigned soon after Slowik refused to authorize a special project for one of Ellerth’s customers.

Three weeks after resigning, Ellerth informed Slowik’s supervisors at Burlington that she had resigned due to Slowik’s harassment. She testified that she did not complain about Slowik’s harassment while still employed by Burlington because she feared for losing her job. Issue: Should an employer be liable for a supervisor’s sexual harassment of an employee if the employee did not agree to or express any interest in her supervisor’s threats, if it didn’t result in any interference with their job? Holding: The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. Reasoning:

I strongly think that this case raises important issues regarding an employer’s liability for sexual harassment by a supervisor. Most harassed employees do not complain at all. Therefore, the company should be liable for their supervisor’s actions because a person would need to be with a company for a period of time or have experience before getting supervising positions which would provide the company with background information. Effective policies and procedures will decrease the incidence of sexual harassment, enabling women to achieve their full potential in the workplace. Class Notes:

The plaintiff employee make a claim of sexual harassment, with an argument that an employer should be held liable for the acts of its supervisor regardless of whether the employee responded to the threats. Harassment occurs regardless of whether the plaintiff actually submits to the harasser. Even if a plaintiff does not comply, threats by a supervisor impact the terms and conditions of employment. Shakeena Hughley HRM Faragher v. City of Boca Raton Facts: Beth Ann Faragher worked as an ocean lifeguard for the City of Boca Raton, Florida. Bill Terry, Chief of the Marine Safety Section, supervised the lifeguard’s work assignments.

David Silverman, a Marine Safety lieutenant and then captain, supervised the lifeguards’ daily duties. Terry and Silverman managed an area far away from the rest of the government where they were granted virtually unchecked authority over the work environment and the supervision of their subordinate employees. During their employment, Terry subjected Faragher and another lifeguard, Nancy Ewanchew, to uninvited and offensive touching. Silverman made various offensive comments and gestures to both Faragher and Ewanchew. Both lifeguards complained to a supervisor, Captain Robert Gordon.

Although Gordon had received complaints from other lifeguards about Silverman’s language and conduct, he failed to report the complaints to his supervisor, Terry, or to another City official. Ewanchew and Faragher resigned from their lifeguard positions with the City in 1989. In April of 1990, Ewanchew wrote a letter to the City’s Director of Personnel complaining that while employed with the City, she and other female lifeguards had been sexually harassed by Terry and Silverman. The City, after investigating Ewanchew’s complaint, concluded that Terry and Silverman engaged in inappropriate conduct.

Both were reprimanded and disciplined. Issue: Is an employer liable for hostile work environment sexual harassment committed by supervisory employees who use their supervisory status to effect the harassment? Holding: The U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida entered judgment for Faragher on her Title VII claim against the City. Reasoning: First of all, the existence of widespread sexual harassment greatly restricts women’s ability to participate as equals in the workplace. In fact, sexual harassment constitutes precisely the kind of barrier to equal employment that Title VII was created to prevent.

The courts ruled in favor of Faragher in hope to prevent other from going through the same harassment by Terry and Silverman as other did prior to this case. Class Notes: In 1992, Faragher sued the City of Boca Raton for sexual harassment under Title VII. The U. S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida entered judgment for Faragher on her Title VII claim against the City. The court held that Faragher was subjected to sufficiently severe and pervasive offensive conduct to create a hostile work environment.

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