Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth

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Parties: Kimberly Ellerth (Plaintiff) v. Burlington Industries, Inc. (Defendant).

Facts: Ms. Kimberly Ellerth sued the Burlington Industries for sexual harassment in the workplace. It resulted in her constructive discharge due to a hostile working environment that contravenes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Umpstead, n.d.). She alleged that Mr. Slowik, a senior supervisor in one of the branches of the company where she worked as a salesperson, commented in a vulgar manner on her breasts, legs, buttocks, and dressing code. Despite resisting the sexual advances, Ellerth was not subject to any form of punishment, and by the time she resigned, she had already earned a promotion.

Prior proceedings: The District Court granted Burlington a summary judgment and dismissed Ellerth’s action with prejudice (DeWit, 2010). Then, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the verdict, leading to eight differing opinions, but no mutual agreement. The cause of disagreement was categorizing the case as quid pro quo, as having the tangible consequences of refusing sexual advances, or as hostile working environment (DeWit, 2010). The court also failed to decide whether the employer’s liability should be vicarious or mere negligence. Finally, the Supreme Court issued a judgment that the employer may be held vicariously liable for such an offense committed by the supervisors. However, employers have the right of defense if they pre-empted the work-related consequences that the plaintiff might have experienced or if the employee did not utilize the employer’s protection (Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 1998).

Issues presented/questions of law: Does an employee who refuses the sexual advances/harassment by a manager but does not suffer any work-related effects have a right to recover judgment against the employer under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but without criminalizing the employer?

Argument/objectives of the parties: The defendant argued that Ellerth overlooked the company’s policy on the issue of sexual harassment and, instead, resigned voluntarily. Thus, she had no right to sue the firm and, consequently, all her claims against Burlington were invalid. Therefore, the company sought to explain that it is not responsible because the management had never failed to protect the victim.

Holding of the rule of law: The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that an employee who resists sexual gestures from a supervisor but does not suffer any visible repercussion can secure judgment against the employer. However, the plaintiff cannot criminalize the latter for the offenses committed by the supervisor. Moreover, the employer has a right of defense (Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 1998). The court ruled that the terms quid pro quo and the hostile environment possess limited definitions. In Ellerth’s case, the sexual threats were not fulfilled because she chose to resign; thus, the incident was regarded as the hostile environment.

Rationale: When repercussions are present, the condition is known as quid pro quo, while the absence means hostile working conditions. However, the controversy exists due to the absence of these terms in the Civil Rights Act, hence complicating the translation of the legislation in the court as seen in the verdict that the District Court delivered in the same case.

Relation of the legal battle to the core value of integrity: Integrity was violated in the case due to the Slowik’s behavior of sexually harassing female employees and thus violating the law that prohibits the offense. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the mistreatment or the provision of harsh working conditions for employees, which presupposes that the integrity was indeed violated. Even without considering the relevant legislation, the issue of sexual harassment is unpleasant due to its oppressive nature to the victims.

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