Oncale v. Sundowner Service Inc. 523 U.S. 75, 118 S.Ct. 998, 140 L.Ed.2d 201 (1998)
Oncale was working on an oil
platform. He claimed that he was sexually assaulted by some of the other
workers on the oil platform.
Oncale complained to his
company, Sundowner, but they took no actions. He sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for
discrimination related to sexual harassment.
The Trial Court found for
Sundowner in summary judgment. Oncale appealed.
The Trial Court found that "Mr.
Oncale, a male, has no cause of action under Title VII for harassment by male co-workers."
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court looked
to the plain language of Title
VII and found that it prohibits
discrimination "because of sex." That implies that it protects
men as well as women.
The Court noted that they
have previously held that Title VII
covers people discriminating against members of their own race, so it
should cover people discriminating against members of their own sex.
The Court noted that
Congress probably never considered that this Statute would be applied in
male on male harassment cases, but that isn't important, as long as the plain
language of the text is clear.
See Church of the Holy
Trinity v. United States (143 U.S.
457 (1892), which came to pretty much the opposite conclusion. In that
case, the Court said that purpose trumps plain language.
The Court suggested that
courts should judge individual cases from the perspective of a reasonable
person, and what might not be considered sexual harassment in one
situation could be sexual harassment in another.