Clarifying the boundaries of sexual harassment and employer liability: Judicial application of Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc.

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Many had anticipated that Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., the first significant Supreme Court ruling on sexual harassment since 1986, would clarify the boundary between "merely offensive" conduct and unlawful conduct, and would offer greater guidance on when an employer is liable for the creation of an abusive (or hostile) work environment. However, the Harris court handed down only a short, narrow decision that left these areas largely unresolved, and, accordingly, it was widely criticized for circumventing contentious issues and for perpetuating the vague framework under which abusive work environment claims are now analyzed. This article examines a representative cross-section of federal and state decisions that have interpreted and applied Harris to evaluate whether courts have achieved any consensus on what constitutes an "abusive" work environment and on when an employer is liable for this type of sexual harassment. © 1997 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

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