Title VII prohibits acts of sexual harassment when such harassment becomes a “term or condition” of employment, when rejection of the harassment could be used as the basis for an employment decision or when such conduct creates an intimidating “hostile” work environment. The types of sexual harassment prohibited by Title VII are grouped into two categories: quid pro quo sexual harassment, when the harassment is directly linked to the grant or denial of an employee’s economic benefits, and hostile environment harassment, when the harassment creates a difficult working environment for an employee. Because the first type of harassment is relatively straightforward, the second type has been the subject of more litigation.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a hostile working environment is created when a workplace is permeated with “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” which is widespread enough to change the conditions of employment for the person being harassed. Hostile work environments have been held by courts to be created when female employees are subjected to pornographic pictures, to unsolicited love letters and request for dates, and sexual innuendos and crude remarks where those remarks were pervasive.
Employees can sue for sexual harassment even when they have suffered no tangible financial problems as a result of such harassment. They can sue even though they have not experienced concrete psychological injury because of the harassment. However, such conduct must do more than offend the employee. Moreover, the harassment does not have to be cross-gender in nature. The Supreme Court in 1998 held that same-sex harassment, e.g. male sexual harassment of another male, is actionable under Title VII.