Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 196419 broadly prohibits discrimination in employment, including discrimination based upon sex. Title VII provides that it is unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."'
The text of Title VII does not specifically mention either quid pro quo or hostile environment sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, has issued a series of Title VII Interpretive Guidelines, which make clear that both forms of sexual harassment are actionable under the statute. Although the main purpose of Title VII is to prevent employers from discriminating against employees in the workplace, this Note will focus on the statute's definitional section. Section 2000e(b) defines the term "employer."
The term "employer" means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such person.
By including "agents" within the definition of employer, Congress expressly incorporated the principle of respondeat superior into the text of Title VII. Accordingly, a harasser need not necessarily be an owner or president of a company in order for the company to be legally responsible for sexual harassment.
Stephanie Ann Henning Blackman,
The Faragher and Ellerth Problem: Lower Courts' Confusion Regarding the Definition of "Supervisor",
54 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol54/iss1/3