Whether a work environment is sufficiently hostile or offensive to support a sexual-harassment claim can be assessed only after examining all of the circumstances. While the courts will always consider as paramount the frequency, severity, and degree of pervasiveness of the harassing conduct, they will scrutinize other factors as well. Was the defendant's conduct physically threatening? Did it unreasonably interfere with the victim's work performance? Were there any other factors bearing on the degree of hostility and offensiveness of the harasser's behavior?
A lone instance of sexual harassment may appear at first glance to fail the test of frequency and degree of pervasiveness, but a single act of physical touching, or some other egregious act of harassment, may create a work environment as offensive and hostile as that resulting from a long-running pattern of harassment.
The EEOC guidelines state that sexual harassment that “has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment” constitutes a violation of Title VII. The severity and pervasiveness of the offending conduct must be viewed objectively and subjectively, that is, from the viewpoint of a reasonable person and from that of the victim of the harassment. 1
Suppose a woman alleges that she perceived her work environment to be hostile and that a reasonable person would similarly view it. Furthermore, the totality of the circumstances appears to support her claim that she has been sexually harassed. But in spite of the abusive conduct she experienced, she