Boss Grab Your Breasts? That’s Not (Legally) Harassment


In a case that went to federal court in the early 1990s, a woman presented evidence that her supervisor tried to kiss her on multiple occasions, placed “I love you” signs on her desk, called her a dumb blonde, put his hands on her shoulders and asked her out on dates. The trial court judge dismissed her suit, declaring that this conduct did not meet the threshold for sexual harassment, and the appeals court affirmed the dismissal.

Since then, courts have cited this case and others like it hundreds of times in rejecting sexual harassment claims. Such conduct, these courts have declared, is not serious enough to be harassment.

In a 2014 case, for example, a court dismissed harassment claims by two waitresses who said their co-workers kissed them, brushed up against them and made sexual references. (One of the waitresses said that a colleague told her repeatedly that he wanted her to have his baby.) A 2000 harassment case was dismissed even though the plaintiff, a construction worker, presented evidence that his male supervisor blew kisses at him, repeatedly remarked on his buttocks, touched his knee in a suggestive manner, made comments about raping him, asked him to sit on his lap and talked about his genitals.

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