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A History of Sexual Harassment in the United States

While the first sexual harassment decision, Williams v. Saxby was handed down in 1976, this area of law had little visibility and minimal import until Justice Clarence Thomas’ conduct toward Anita Hill became emblematic of the syndrome. A timeline of sexual harassment law shows the evolution of national awareness of sexual harassment from a culturally accepted condition of employment to a serious legal issue, sensitivity to which now permeates the modern day workplace.

Sexual harassment, an unwelcome, sexually charged act within a professional relationship that creates a hostile environment was ruled a form of gender discrimination in 1976, and therefore illegal. A number of high profile cases have permanently affected the way sexual harassment is viewed today. Some of the most famous are:

  • Anita Hill vs. Justice Clarence Thomas – during the Supreme Court Justice’s confirmation hearings, colleague and law professor Anita Hill brought a series of headline-grabbing allegations against Thomas for sexually inappropriate language, gestures and humors.
  • Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky vs. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton – White House employees claimed the president asked for sexual favors. These cases brought to light the concept of quid pro quo harassment, in which the harasser uses his position of power to gain compliance with sexual acts, as the victims feel their employment is threatened should they refuse.
  • Two female plaintiffs vs. University of Colorado – these women claimed the University used promises of sex and alcohol as a method of recruiting top ranking high school athletes for their football team. This case is still on appeal, but has raised awareness of sex discrimination on an administrative level and has led to radical policy reforms.

California is leading the country in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace by introducing Assembly Bill 1825 (AB 1825) and new Government Code section 12950.1, requiring mandatory compliance training for employees. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in your workplace, speak to an attorney about your rights. Contact Los Angeles County Super Lawyers The Ruttenberg Law Firm, P.C. by calling 310.207.4022 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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