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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 establishes sexual harassment as a form of workplace discrimination. It applies to companies in Tennessee and around the country with at least 15 employees. Title VII makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex or religion.

The U.S. Department of Labor breaks workplace sexual harassment down into two categories. The first type is quid pro quo sexual harassment, which involves making employment decisions like hiring, promotion, assignment delegation or firing based on submitting or not submitting to sexual advances. The second type is hostile work environment sexual harassment, where the workplace is made abusive, offensive or intimidating.

Prohibited behavior under Title VII may include requests for sexual favors, physical or verbal harassment that is of a sexual nature, unwelcome sexual advances or offensive remarks about the sex of a person, even if the remarks themselves are not sexual. Workplace harassment may be actionable if the conduct is unwelcome, subjectively abusive and based on the protected status of the victim. The conduct must also be pervasive and severe to the extent that a reasonable person would find the work environment hostile. There are thus subjective and objective elements to be met in a workplace harassment case.

A decision in a lawsuit based on a sexual harassment claim case will take into account certain factors to determine whether a reasonable person would find the conduct pervasive and severe. Among those that are generally considered are the frequency of the conduct, whether it was physically threatening or humiliating, whether the harasser was a superior at work and the effect the conduct had on the plaintiff employee’s psyche.