Sexual harassment getting harder to define

U.S. judge rules that the grey area between simple boorishness and sexual harassment is getting greyer

Today’s vulgarity may have led to a lower standard for acceptable behaviour in the workplace. As a result, it may be more difficult for employees to prove sexual harassment, according to a Savannah, Georgia federal court judge.

The ruling may leave HR managers scrambling to figure out what crosses the line, because the line is constantly moving – down.

Judge B. Avant Edenfield dismissed an employee’s claim that her civil rights had been violated at work, forcing her to resign. Gabrielle Breda complained that her male co-workers used sexual epithets and obscenities, waited for her outside the washroom and then commented on how long she had taken, and stated that she only made sales because the male customers wanted to have sex with her.

Breda worked for Wolf Camera, a camera store. Her co-workers allegedly used telephoto lenses to ogle her and other women.

In his judgment, Judge Edenfield said that today it is more difficult to determine when conduct crosses the line and becomes sexual harassment.

What used to be acceptable behaviour has been “corroded by instant-gratification driven, cultural influences,” his judgment said.

He said that current events including the Lewinsky affair, “perverse” broadcast programming and lewd music, videos and computer games make for more grey areas in terms of harassment. As a result, he said, people may have to accept a certain degree of workplace vulgarity as normal, rather than a violation of human rights.

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