The #MeToo movement, a global social response to sexual harassment in the workplace, has turned the traditional approach to sexual harassment on its head. Instead of shielding perpetrators and discrediting survivors, employers, the media, and the public have begun to shift from presuming the credibility of the perpetrator to presuming the credibility of the survivor. But this upending of the status quo has occurred almost entirely in the social sphere—and the legal system, where survivors of workplace sexual harassment can seek remedies for the abuse they have suffered, is proving much slower to adapt.
While our social presumptions are flipping to center the behavior of the accused instead of the accuser, the legal standard for workplace sexual harassment still focuses squarely on the victim’s reasonableness. In order to bring a legally actionable claim of sexual harassment, a victim must demonstrate that she was objectively and subjectively reasonable in believing that she was subjected to sexual harassment. Even if she succeeds in demonstrating this, if her employer had mechanisms in place to address sexual harassment, she must also demonstrate that her response to her harassment— such as reporting or not reporting the harassment through an employer’s complaint process—was reasonable.
This Comment analyzes the effects of the #MeToo movement on federal courts’ definitions of sexual harassment under the existing legal standard. Since reasonableness is a socially-defined term, courts have plenty of room to incorporate shifting conceptions of sexual harassment into their jurisprudence—but many are remarkably slow to do so. While it is too soon to state definitively what effect #MeToo will have on sexual harassment law in the long run, this Comment should leave practitioners and scholars with a clearer picture of the direction circuit courts have taken since #MeToo began.
Danielle A. Bernstein,
Reasonableness in Hostile Work Environment Cases After #MeToo,
Mich. J. Gender & L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjgl/vol28/iss1/5