Assumption That Men Welcome Sexual Harassment Is Sex Stereotyping In Violation Of Title VII
You don’t often see sexual harassment cases in which the woman is the aggressor and the man is the victim. Many people (including some judges) don’t interpret those facts to constitute sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. That’s why the recent case of EEOC v. Prospect Airport Services from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is so important.
What Happened In The Case
Rudolpho Lamas worked for Prospect Airport Services at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. He worked as a passenger assistant helping passengers who needed wheelchair assistance.
Lamas, a recent widower, started working for Prospect in April of 2002. That fall, Sylvia Munoz, a married co-worker began making sexual advances to Lamas. Munoz repeatedly:
- propositioned him for sex
- asked him out
- wrote him love notes which were sexually explicit
- performed gestures simulating fellatio when he walked by
- recruited co-workers who were telling him that she loved him and wanted him
- approached him in the parking lot at work and gave him a sexually suggestive photograph
Lamas never made overtures towards Munoz and told her and their co-workers over and over that he was not interested – but she didn’t stop.
Lamas complained to his boss but nothing was done. He talked to his next supervisor up the chain, Dennis Mitchell, and gave him one of the “love” notes. Mitchell told Lamas that he “did not want to get involved in personal matters.” Eventually Mitchell told Munoz that he knew she was “pursuing a coworker … and the coworker wanted the advances to stop.”
But Munoz did not stop and the harassment continued. He testified that every time he walked by her there was something -- a gesture, licking her lips suggestively, asking if he “wanted to have some fun”, performing “blow job imitations” -- and that it was embarrassing and causing constant pressure at work.
Co-workers began to speculate that Lamas was a homosexual -- so in addition to having to deal with Munoz’s remarks and gestures, Lamas had to face co-workers remarks suggesting that he was gay. Lamas complained to four different Prospect management officials about the harassment, but nothing was done to stop it. Munoz kept up the behavior.
Lamas felt helpless, was crying, and consulted a psychologist about his distress. His performance began to suffer. Lomas was demoted because of “complaints about job performance “and his “negative attitude.” A few monthslater, in June of 2003, Lamas was fired.
The District Court Decision
Munoz filed a lawsuit in the federal district court in Nevada for sexual harassment. The district court concluded as a matter of law that Munoz’s conduct was not severe and pervasive enough to amount to sexual harassment for a reasonable man.
In its decision grating judgment against Lamas, the district noted that most men would have “welcomed” the behavior, but Lomas admitted that due to his Christian background he was embarrassed instead. It also noted that Munoz never filed a written report complaining about the conduct. Lamas appealed.Continue Reading...