Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Workplace Sexual Harassment Law: An Empirical Analysis of Organizational Justice and Legal Policy

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Workplace Sexual Harassment Law: An Empirical Analysis of Organizational Justice and Legal Policy

Article excerpt

Enacted during a period of social upheaval in the U.S., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, and sex. Congressional debates on the bill were protracted and contentious, reflecting deep disagreement about civil rights laws (Levy, 1998). Significantly, the initial draft of Title VII contained no reference to "sex" as a protected classification. Conservative legislators opposed to the statute offered an amendment on the floor of the House as a procedural technique to delay passage of Title VII. However, Democratic leaders such as Representative Celler of New York and others, including several women members of the House, opposed the change on the grounds that it detracted from the bill's primary focus on race. The House accepted the amendment by a vote of 168 in favor and 133 against (Congressional Record, 1964: 25772584), with Senate approval following soon thereafter.

Because the legislative history offered no definitive guide to Congress's intention, the legal rules against sex discrimination have been established primarily through a process of litigation (Achampong, 1999). In two 1998 cases dealing with hostile working environments, the U.S. Supreme Court set forth principles which permit employers to avoid monetary liability for some acts which do not have tangible job effects on the victims but which nevertheless may violate the provisions of Title VII (Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 1998;

Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, 1993). Some commentators regard the Court's opinions as a sound interpretation of an otherwise ambiguous area of the law (e.g., Hunt, 1999). Despite adding some stability to unsetled doctrine, the Court's pronouncements do little to develop a coherent foundation for its treatment of workplace misconduct involving sexual behavior. Most importantly, the Court offers no theoretical or empirical rationale for its conclusions about the effectiveness of personnel procedures in deterring illegal activities.

This article analyzes the development of sexual harassment jurisprudence from a perspective of regulatory policy and industrial/ organizational (IO) psychology. It begins by considering the Congressional purpose underlying Title VII's anti-discrimination provisions. From that starting point, we examine how the legal concept of "sexual harassment" has evolved in an ad hoc fashion through Supreme Court decisions. We then turn to a body of research in IO psychology dealing with workplace justice systems and propose hypotheses about the ways in which those systems might moderate the consequences of a hostile working environment. We present empirical findings from a study that analyzed how groups of women perceived situations of sexual conduct. (1) The article then discusses the linkages between managerial techniques such as justice procedures and the laws regulating the sexual behavior of individual employees at work. Our conclusion is that the use of organizational justice procedures should be encouraged by app ropriate legal policies.


Even though the concept of "sex" discrimination lacked a well-defined legislative gloss, the overall objective of Title VII points to an interpretive approach based on workers' economic interests. The statute from its inception was aimed at improving the economic condition of protected groups and not their social status. Congress repeatedly affirmed during its debates that the basic goal of the law was to give disadvantaged classes equal opportunity to participate in labor markets (United Steelworkers of America v. Weber, 1979). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recognized early on that managerial decisions affecting an individual's wages, hours, and working conditions, when accompanied by requests for sexual favors, violated the law. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.