The U.S. Court of Appeals should reverse harmful decision in Harris v. Baltimore
(Washington, DC) A case of critical importance to ensuring that women can be adequately protected from sexual harassment in the workplace is currently being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the National WomenÂs Law Center (NWLC) said today. NWLC submitted an amicus brief in the case, joined by several civil rights and workplace fairness organizations. The amicus brief is available here: http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/harrisamicusbrief.pdf
Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of NWLC, stated: ÂAs women increasingly enter non-traditional fields of employment, it is critical that employers be held fully accountable for sexual harassment Â especially because the incidence of harassment is higher in workplaces that have traditionally excluded women. It is shameful that blatant sex discrimination of this nature still occurs, and it is the duty of the courts to ensure that it does not go uncorrected.Â
Harris v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore is a sexual harassment case brought by plaintiff Lynette Harris in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Ms. Harris was one of the very few women who worked as an electrical maintenance technician for the City of Baltimore. On the job, Ms HarrisÂs co-workers and supervisors referred to women using demeaning and derogatory words on a daily basis, regularly engaged in vulgar, sexual conversations while making offensive gestures in the presence of Ms. Harris and others, displayed photos of naked and partially clothed women in common areas throughout the workplace, and did not respond to Ms. HarrisÂ repeated requests that the photos be taken down. Additionally, Ms. HarrisÂ supervisor excluded her from daily staff meetings and forced her to sit during those meetings at a glass table covered with more of the offensive photos.
The district court ruled against Ms. Harris, saying that the harassing conduct to which she was subject was not Âsevere or pervasiveÂ enough to create a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination, including workplace harassment, on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. Departing from longstanding Title VII standards, the district court held that Ms. Harris had to prove either that the harassment was physical in nature or that it was Âan extreme level of verbal inappropriateness directed specificallyÂ at her. In addition, the court failed, as the Supreme Court has required, to consider the conduct in light of the surrounding circumstances Â including the fact that Ms. Harris was one of very few women in her workplace.
ÂThe district court in Harris v. Baltimore created its own, overly burdensome standard for plaintiffs that enables employers to ignore workplace harassment with impunity,Â Greenberger said. ÂThe courtÂs approach undermines CongressÂs intent that workplaces are free of sexual harassment, ignores Supreme Court precedent and EEOC guidance, and leaves Ms. Harris unprotected from truly egregious conduct by her coworkers. The U.S. Court of Appeals should reverse the district courtÂs decision, and give Ms. Harris the justice she deserves.Â
NWLCÂs amicus brief on Harris v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore is available here:http://www.nwlc.org/pdf/harrisamicusbrief.pdf
For more information on the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment in the workplace, visit NWLCÂs website:http://nwlc.org/details.cfm?id=459§ion=employment.
For more information or to interview Marcia D. Greenberger, please contact Adrienne Ammerman or Mary Robbins at 202-588-5180.
The National Women's Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women's legal rights. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.