The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed unequal voter registration requirements and segregation in the workplace, schools, and public accommodations.

Title VII of the Act prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion or sex.  Note that Title VII only applies to employers with fifteen or more employees (for at least nineteen weeks in the current or preceding calendar year).

Amendments to the Civil Rights Act were added in 1991, allowing employees who had suffered from discrimination to seek punitive damages.  Previously, the Supreme Court had held that victims of discrimination could only receive back pay, reinstatement, and attorney's fees as remedies.

Civil Rights Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established in 1965 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act to enforce the laws contained therein.

The EEOC has the power to investigate, mediate, and file lawsuits on behalf of employees.  Individual employees are also allowed to file private suits. 

An individual suffering from discrimination must file a complaint of discrimination within 180 days of learning of the discrimination.  If the individual fails to file the complaint with those 180 days, he/she may lose his/her right to file a lawsuit.  



Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. (1986)
Vinson was subject to constant requests for sexual favors from her supervisor over the course of a four-year period.  After she was fired for prolonged absence, she brought suit against the bank and claimed that she had been subject to a hostile work environment.

Before this suit, the courts had only recognized tangible or economic discrimination, and sexual harassment was limited to quid pro quo harassment (requesting sexual favors in exchange for promotions or benefits.)

The Supreme Court found sexual harassment, and officially recognized that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protected against a hostile work environment as a form of discrimination.

The Court further stated that a hostile work environment constitutes grounds for an action only when the conduct is unwelcome, based on sex, and severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.

Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 518 (1997)
Harris argued that the ever-present disparaging remarks towards her and other female employees made by her manager constituted an abusive working environment.

The Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment, and further added that sexual harassment does not need to have a serious effect on a person's psychological well-being to be actionable under Title VII.

Whether a work environment could be considered hostile was judged from a reasonable person standard, and included the following factors:
    (1)  Frequency of the discriminatory conduct;
    (2)  Severity of the discriminatory conduct;
    (3)  Whether the conduct is physically threatening or a verbal comment;
    (4)  Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee's work

Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998)
Faragher complained that the supervisors at her lifeguard job were harassing her and other co-workers, and had created a hostile work environment.  She claimed that her supervisors had touched her, made lewd comments, and spoke about women generally in offensive terms.  The City argued that because the lifeguards had no significant contact with Parks and Recreation officials, the City should not be held responsible for the actions of the supervisors.

Previously, courts had been split in regards to recognizing liability of employers for a supervisor's sexual harassment if the harassment occurred outside the scope of employment. 

In Faragher, the Supreme Court held that employers should be held vicariously liable for sexual harassment conducted by its supervisors regardless of whether the supervisors were acting within the traditional scope of employment.  The Court explained that employers should be held liable because the conduct of a supervisor is made possible by abuse of his/her supervisory authority given to him/her by the employer.

For more information on sexual harassment as a Title VII claim, please click on our Title VII section.


Title IX is a federal law that prohibits any educational program or activity that receives federal funding to discriminate on the basis of sex.  The drafters of Title IX sought to prevent the use of federal funds to support discriminatory practices in education programs and to protect individuals from such activities and conduct. 

Title IX applies to all colleges, universities, secondary and elementary schools as well as educational and training programs operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. 

Sexual harassment is one of the most common actions brought under Title IX.  For more information on sexual harassment under Title IX, please click on our Title IX section.