1986 June 19

Supreme Court Recognizes Sexual Harassment


In the case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, decided on this day, the Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Court held that Title VII was “not limited to ‘economic’ or ‘tangible’ discrimination,’ finding that the intention of Congress was “to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment . . .”

The concept of sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII originated with law professor Catharine McKinnon (see her book, below). MacKinnon was also the co-originator, with author-activist Andrea Dworkin, of the concept that pornography violated the civil rights of women. Indianapolis enacted an ordinance embodying that idea, but it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on August 27, 1985.

The Court: “In sum, we hold that a claim of ‘hostile environment’ sex discrimination is actionable under Title VII. . . .

Read MacKinnon’s pioneering work: Catharine MacKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination (1979)

Read the Media Coalition report on MacKinnon’s work on pornography: http://mediacoalition.org/files/Catharine-MacKinnon-report.pdf

Learn more about the conflict between freedom of sexual expression and sexual harassment: Leigh Ann Wheeler, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (2013)

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