On behalf of California Civil Rights Law Group posted in Workplace Discrimination on Friday, October 7, 2016.
Workplace sexual harassment is one of most the pressing issues facing society. As a country, it is impossible to know which direction we are headed if we do not know how we got here. Back in 1991, the Supreme Court set an important precedent for workplace sexual harassment. At the time, it was widely considered that men could not be considered victims of sexually related crimes because men did not often report claims of sexual harassment. Society had taught men that they should be strong enough to deal with unwanted advances. This includes fraternity pledging, sports hazing, and even workplace environments.
An overview of the case
During the fall of 1991, a man named Joseph Oncale had a steady job maintaining the equipment of Sundowner Offshore Services for the petroleum giant Chevron. This platform was located in the Gulf of Mexico off of the coast of Louisiana. While working for Sundowner Offshore Services, Oncale was part of an eight-man team that kept the equipment running efficiently.
More than once, Oncale was the target of both verbal and physical sexual harassment. Oncale alleged he was even forced to engage in humiliating and degrading sexually related acts in the presence of others, including his team. As Oncale tried to stay strong and deal with the abuse, the humiliation only worsened. For example, Oncale was allegedly sodomized with soap and threatened with rape if he did not comply.
With the abuse becoming more severe, Oncale decided to take his complaints to his supervisors. Unfortunately, no actions were taken by the company or his supervisors to halt the abuse. Furthermore, one of the supervisors even tossed a homosexual slur his way, targeting Oncale’s sexual orientation. With no options left to pursue within the company, Oncale decided to quit. Oncale desired that it be indicated on his pink slip that he left of his own volition due to worsening verbal and sexual abuse.
Louisiana State Supreme Court Ruling
Upon leaving the company, Oncale lodged a formal complaint against Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc. in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana on the grounds he was discriminated against due to his gender. The court saw no precedent for male abuse and ruled in favor on the defendant under Title VII, a statute outlining sexual harassment in the workplace. Oncale appealed the decision to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the earlier decision by the district court.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling is now the law of the land
Oncale was forced to take his case to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted his petition for a writ of certiorari and reversed the decisions made by lower courts. Justice Scalia wrote for the unanimous court decision, with Justice Thomas concurring, and ordered the case be remanded for further action. The case was to be heard on the new grounds that a male can be discriminated against by other men under the Title VII statute. The court case ended with a decision in favor of Joseph Oncale.
California workers need not tolerate ANY form of sexual harassment
This case set many important precedents in every state, including California. First, it established that men can be discriminated against by other men in the workplace. No longer does a man have to tolerate sexual harassment at the risk of appearing weak. Male employees now have legal recourse for sexual abuse under Title VII. In addition, the case set a precedent that sexual abuse does not have to be motivated by desire. The men abusing Joseph Oncale did not seek sexual gratification, merely humiliation. The national legal precedent states that sexual discrimination is defined as any action that places an employee at a disadvantage in the workplace, regardless of the gender of either party.