Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc.
510 U.S. 17

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1993

Syllabus

HARRIS v. FORKLIFT SYSTEMS, INC.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

No. 92-1168. Argued October 13, 1993-Decided November 9,1993

Petitioner Harris sued her former employer, respondent Forklift Systems, Inc., claiming that the conduct of Forklift's president toward her constituted "abusive work environment" harassment because of her gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Declaring this to be "a close case," the District Court found, among other things, that Forklift's president often insulted Harris because of her gender and often made her the target of unwanted sexual innuendos. However, the court concluded that the comments in question did not create an abusive environment because they were not "so severe as to ... seriously affect [Harris'] psychological well-being" or lead her to "suffe[r] injury." The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: To be actionable as "abusive work environment" harassment, conduct need not "seriously affect [an employee's] psychological well-being" or lead the plaintiff to "suffe[r] injury." Pp. 21-23.

(a) The applicable standard, here reaffirmed, is stated in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U. S. 57: Title VII is violated when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a discriminatorily hostile or abusive working environment, id., at 64, 67. This standard requires an objectively hostile or abusive environment--one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive-as well as the victim's subjective perception that the environment is abusive. Pp.21-22.

(b) Whether an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances, which may include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance. The effect on the employee's psychological well-being is relevant in determining whether the plaintiff actually found the environment abusive. But while psychological harm, like any other relevant factor, may be taken into account, no single factor is required. pp. 22-23.

(c) Reversal and remand are required because the District Court's erroneous application of the incorrect legal standard may well have influenced its ultimate conclusion that the work environment was not in-


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timidating or abusive to Harris, especially given that the court found this to be a "close case." P. 23.

976 F.2d 733, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SCALIA, J., post, p. 24, and GINSBURG, J., post, p. 25, filed concurring opinions.

Irwin Venick argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Robert Belton and Rebecca L. Brown.

Jeffrey P. Minear argued the cause for the United States et al. as amici curiae in support of petitioner. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Bryson, Acting Assistant Attorney General Turner, Dennis J. Dimsey, Thomas E. Chandler, Donald R. Livingston, Gwendolyn Young Reams, and Carolyn L. Wheeler.

Stanley M. Chernau argued the cause for respondent.

With him on the brief were Paul F. Mickey, Jr., Michael A. Carvin, and W Eric Pilsk. *

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider the definition of a discriminatorily "abusive work environment" (also known as a "hostile work

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Steven R. Shapiro, John A. Powell, and Lois C. Waldman; for Feminists for Free Expression by Cathy E. Crosson; for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., et al. by Elaine R. Jones and Eric Schnapper; for the National Conference of Women's Bar Associations et al. by Edith Barnett; for the National Employment Lawyers Association by Margaret A. Harris, Katherine L. Butler, and William J. Smith; for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund et al. by Deborah A. Ellis, Sarah E. Burns, Richard F. Ziegler, and Shari Siegel; for the Southern States Police Benevolent Association et al. by J. Michael McGuinness; and for the Women's Legal Defense Fund et al. by Carolyn F. Corwin, Judith L. Lichtman, Donna R. Lenhoff, and Susan Deller Ross.

Robert E. Williams, Douglas S. McDowell, and Ann Elizabeth Reesman filed a brief for the Equal Employment Advisory Council as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the American Psychological Association by Dort S. Bigg; and for the Employment Law Center et al. by Patricia A. Shiu.


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Full Text of Opinion

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