The “Severe or Pervasive” Hurdle to Sexual Harassment Cases

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is unfortunately common in American workplaces. Since the #MeToo movement began in the fall of 2017 with harassment allegations against influential people such as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, the country has made tremendous progress in confronting this problem.

However, numerous barriers remain, both in preventing harassment and punishing it through the judicial system. James H. Shoemaker, Jr. is an empathetic and compassionate employment lawyer with more than 20 years of experience pursuing compensation for survivors of sexual harassment. He understands the intricacies of local, state, and federal laws. He is dedicated to holding harassers accountable.

The “Severe and Pervasive” Hurdle

The Supreme Court decision that officially recognized sexual harassment as a prohibited form of discrimination also made these cases hard for survivors to win. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 1986, the court ruled that sexual harassment violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In his majority opinion, however, Justice William Rehnquist wrote that “for sexual harassment to be actionable, it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.”           

Those words have become the threshold for bringing a sexual harassment suit. They area massive hurdle for survivors because they make judges decide to hear or dismiss a claim based upon their own interpretation of the “severe and pervasive” standard, not the alleged facts of the case.

How the “Severe and Pervasive” Standard Hurts Survivors

This criterion has resulted in abhorrent miscarriages of justice. For example, in the 1993 case Weiss v. Coca-Cola Bottling Company, the plaintiff alleged that her supervisor touched her inappropriately, attempted to kiss her, and left love notes in her work area. A federal court of appeals ruled the case couldn’t proceed because, even if the allegations were true, the defendant’s conduct wasn’t “severe and pervasive.”

This creates an unfair benchmark for survivors. It forces them to not only prove the facts of their case, but also argue that the harassment had a sufficiently negative impact on their lives — and hope the judge agrees with them.

The lack of recourse for conduct that doesn’t meet the “severe and pervasive” standard has created a workplace culture in which survivors are forced to endure harassment they can’t prosecute.

Schedule Your Consultation Today

Because of this standard, it’s critical to hire an experienced sexual harassment attorney if you’re considering filing a claim. Mr. Shoemaker is familiar with the various aspects of these cases, including the “severe and pervasive” benchmark. He will doggedly pursue justice on your behalf.

Mr. Shoemaker serves Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, and Washington, D.C. He can also practice throughout the United States. Call (757) 223-4580 today to set up a consultation.


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