History of Sexual Harassment Project

  • 1964

    Title VII

    Prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex but does not mention harassment.

  • 1980


    Interprets Title VII sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination during Eleanor Holmes Norton’s tenure as chair.

  • 1981

    Bundy vs. Jackson, D.C. Circuit

    Prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex but does not mention harassment.

  • 1986

    Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (US Supreme Ct)

    First time ruling, even if woman who “allegedly has sex” with boss fearing job loss if she did not, could sue for sexual harassment. Question not whether her conduct was voluntary but whether bosses comments were “UNWELCOME”

  • 1989

    Price Waterhouse vs Hopkins (US Supreme Ct)

    United States Supreme Court determined that gender played a motivating part in an employment decision where she was denied promotion… “that gender stereotyping is actionable as sex discrimination. Hopkins claimed her partnership decision was denied to her gender non-conformity; she was told to
    “… walk, talk, more, dress more femininely...wear make-up... have hair styled, wear jewelry… needed a ‘course in charm school”.

  • 1991

    Ellison v. Brady, 9th Circuit

    Because male and female sensibilities differ, a court adopts a “reasonable woman” standard for sexual harassment cases; as a man’s unsolicited love letters and unwanted attention might seem inoffensive to the average man but might so offend the average woman and create a hostile work environment”; cases moved to “reasonable person” standard.

  • 1991


    Senate Judiciary Committee considers the nomination of Clarence Thomas to Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.

    “….I was required to validate myself and my experience within the experiential realm of the members of the Judiciary Committee. The fact that the senators were all men, all White, all powerfully connected, all insiders, and the I, with no political connections, was a dual outsider by virtue of race and gender, make the likelihood of my success remote…..”

    “….Because they misunderstood the nature of sexual harassment, the senators raised questions about my sexuality…”

  • 1993

    Coalition of Immokalee Workers Formed

    The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was formed in 1993 and has grown to become a internationally recognized worker-based human rights organization for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work.

  • 1998

    Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore (U.S. Supreme Court)

    Third ruling, holds that Title VII applies to “same sex” harassment. Oil rigger alleged that male co-workers subjected him to sexual assaults. Even though Title VII does not specifically protect men from gender-based harassment by other men, the general sex discrimination principles do apply. Title VII does not create a civility code for the American workplace however, social context and common sense will still control whether particular conduct can create a hostile work environment.

  • 2006

    Human Rights Watch Report
    “Swept under the Rug: Abuses against Domestic Workers Around the World”.

    The report investigated abuses against domestic workers originating from or working in El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Togo, the United Emirates, and the United States.

  • 2007

    #MeToo Campaign

    Activist Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo hashtag and campaign to create a public conversation on sexual assault.

  • 2009

    Prowel v. Wise Bus Forms, 3rd Circuit

    Title VII does not protect sexual orientation, both gay and straight employees can claim harassment based on sex-stereotyping “where an effeminate male employee was ridiculed for his high voice, dressy clothes, filed fingernails and clean car.”

  • 2010

    EEOC v. Prospect Airport Servs., 9th Circuit

    Court reinstated claim of an airport passenger service assistant who received and rejected sexual propositions from a female co-worker, then suffered taunts by co-workers that he must be gay for rejecting those advances. Court cautioned that “one cannot assume that a woman’s sexual advances to a man are always welcome.”

  • 2010

    NY State becomes the first state to pass “The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”

    After a six-year organizing campaign by Domestic Workers United, the bill was pass codifying labor protections for domestic workers including from forms of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against workers for complaints about harassment. Since then, bills of rights have been won by workers in seven other states, many of which include similar harassment and discrimination provisions.

  • 2012

    Patino v. Birken Mfg. Co. (Supreme Court of CT)

    Connecticut banned employment discrimination because of sexual orientation, and the court upholds a jury verdict for emotional distress where the employer allowed employees to subject a co-worker to sustained anti-gay slurs.

  • 2013

    Maricruz Ladino-“Rape in the Fields”

    A documentary on the subject of sexual abuse of farmworkers. Produced by PBS Frontline, Univision, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley.

  • 2014

    Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., 4th Circuit

    A company is potentially liable to its office-worker employee for a hostile environment created by the racist and sexist commentary of a customer’s sales representative, where the company knew or should have known of the verbal harassment and failed to take any “serious action” for three years.

  • 2014

    ROCU publishes “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry”

    A report that looks at the connection between tipped work and sexual harassment, a dynamic which “contributes to the restaurant industry’s status as the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the U.S.”

  • 2015

    Baldwin v. DOT, Appeal No. 0120133080

    Title VII bans anti-gay workplace bias. The EEOC, in a 3–2 decision involving a male air traffic controller, adopts a new interpretation of Title VII: sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.

  • 2015

    Documentary-“Rape on the Night Shift”

    A sequential joint investigation after “Rape on the Fields” that investigates the allegations of sexual abuse of immigrant women working in the janitorial industry. Produced by PBS Frontline, Univision, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley and KQED Pubic Media for Northern CA.

  • 2016

    Smith v. Rock-Tenn Servs., Inc., 6th Circuit

    Court upholds same-sex harassment verdict. Despite acting to investigate a workplace harassment complaint, an employer may still be held liable under Title VII if there’s evidence it didn’t investigate timely or take adequate measures to protect the complaining employee from further potential harassment while it investigates.

  • 2016

    Ya Basta! Coalition Formed

    Following the 2015 documentary by the Center for Investigative Reporting and its partners, “Rape on the Night Shift,” the Ya Basta! Coalition formed to advance the workplace safety and dignity of women and other workers vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence and harassment in the janitorial industry, and improve conditions for all workers.

  • 2016

    California Assembly Bill 1978 Passed

    In October 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1978, to address sexual violence in the workplace, specifically for women working in the janitorial industry. The bill was sponsored by California Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez and SEIU-USWW. Members of the union were inspired to take action after viewing the documentary “Rape on the Night Shift”. AB1978 requires employers to sponsor trainings and prevention plans.

  • 2016

    Oxfam report “Women on the Line: A Review of Workplace Gender Issues in the U.S. Poultry Industry”

    While the problems facing poultry workers has been well documented, the 2016 Oxfam report investigated the specific circumstances facing women poultry workers, examining issues of workplace health and safety and issues sexual violence and pregnancy complications.

  • 2016

    Amendment to California FEHA Regulations

    Requires mandatory extensive anti-harassment policies that included record keeping and new definitions from every California employer.

  • 2017

    UAW Ford Plant Settlement

    Ford reached a $10 million settlement for sexual and racial harassment at two of its Chicago plants brought to the EEOC by the UAW. In the 1990s, a string of lawsuits and an EEOC investigation resulted in a $22 million settlement by Ford.

  • 2017

    “Hands Off Pants On” Ordinance

    Passed to help protect Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault. The ordinance was passed by the Chicago City Council following a 2016 participatory research project/study by UNITE HERE on sexual harassment in the hotel industry.

  • 2018

    Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

    #MeToo Reignited

    After allegations of sexual harassment by movie mogul Harry Weinstein surfaced, actress Alyssa Milano reignited the #MeToo hashtag with the tweet “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. The outpour of responses helped spark a movement raising awareness against sexual violence and harassment.

  • 2018

    Safe Work Demands for Captial Hill

    The Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Farmworker Women's Alliance), the National Domestic Workers Alliance and actor and activist Jane Fonda met with members of Congress in Washington, DC to share their stories and urge Congress to extend sexual harassment laws so that every worker is protected without loopholes or exclusions.