WASHINGTON (CNN) — In a ruling that makes employers easier targets for lawsuits, the Supreme Court said Friday that companies may be held liable for sexual harassment by supervisors.
The justices ruled 7-2 in the case of Beth Ann Faragher, a former lifeguard who alleges she was harassed by two of her supervisors. The court ruling allows her to proceed with her lawsuit against the city of Boca Raton, Florida.
In the majority opinion the court said that employers always are potentially liable for a supervisor’s sexual misconduct toward an employee.
To successfully defend themselves, the ruling said, employers would have to show they “exercised reasonable care to prevent or correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior” and that “the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented. Writing for the two, Thomas said the court “manufactures a rule that employers are vicariously liable if supervisors create a sexually hostile work environment, subject to an affirmative defense that the court barely attempts to define.”
Thomas objected that the court’s rule “applies even if the employer has a policy against sexual harassment, the employee knows about the policy and the employee never informs anyone in a position of authority about the supervisor’s conduct.”