Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57; 106 S. Ct. 2399; 91 L. Ed. 2d 49 (1986)

Facts—Vinson, a former employee, claimed that during her employment at the bank she had been subjected to sexual harassment. She worked at the bank for four years, was discharged in November 1978, and sued in the District Court, claiming that her supervisor had constantly subjected her to sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. The bank denied knowledge of any sexual harassment. The District Court denied relief. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed. It also denied that the bank was without liability merely because it did not know of the harassment. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question—Does sexual harassment without economic loss creating a hostile or abusive work environment violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?


ReasonsJ. Rehnquist (9–0). Unwelcome sexual advances create an offensive or hostile working environment in violation of Title VII. The Court rejects petitioner’s view that Title VII is concerned only with “economic” or “tangible” discrimination. Not all workplace conduct—such as “mere utterance of an ethnic or racial epithet”—affects the term, condition, or privilege of employment. But actions that are severe or persuasive enough to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment create an abusive working environment. That conduct was “voluntary” in the sense that the complainant was not forced against her will “is not a defense to a sexual harassment suit under Title VII.” We refuse to accept the Court of Appeals’ view that petitioner Taylor was covered by his employer, the Bank, even though the employer neither knew nor reasonably could have known of the alleged misconduct. We hold that a claim of “hostile environment” sex discrimination is actionable under Title VII. We reject petitioner’s view that the existence of a grievance, a policy against discrimination “coupled with respondent’s failure to invoke that procedure, must insulate petitioner from liability.”

Note—Courts have identified two types of sexual harassment—that based on a quid pro quo, in which sex is expected in exchange for a benefit, and that, like this case, based on a hostile environment.

Leave a Reply