In its first case involving sexual harassment since the early 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled this week that workers can sue for workplace discrimination when they believe they have been sexually harassed by a member of the same sex. The landmark ruling revives a lawsuit in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans filed by former oil-rig worker Joseph Oncale. Oncale contends that he was sexually harassed by two male co-workers and a male supervisor.
But, the Supreme Court, in its opinion, makes it clear that common sense should be the prevailing wisdom in all discrimination claims involving sexual harassment.
"Common sense and an appropriate sensitivity to social context will enable courts and juries to distinguish between simple teasing or rough-housing among members of the same sex, and conduct that a reasonable person in the plaintiffs position would find severely hostile or abusive," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. "We see no justification ... for a categorical rule excluding same-sex harassment claims," from the coverage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Supreme Court will also rule on two other sexual harassment issues this term: whether a company is responsible for the behavior of a supervisor, and whether a company can be sued for sexual harassment when someone rejects a supervisors advances and doesnt suffer any job-related consequences.