Faragher v. City of Boca Raton

PETITIONER: Faragher
RESPONDENT: City of Boca Raton
LOCATION: United States Department of State

DOCKET NO.: 97-282
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 775 (1998)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1998

ADVOCATES:
Harry A. Rissetto - Argued the cause for the respondent
Irving L. Gornstein - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioner
William R. Amlong - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

After resigning as a lifeguard, Beth Ann Faragher brought an action against the City of Boca Raton and her immediate supervisors, alleging that the supervisors had created a sexually hostile atmosphere by touching, remarking, and commenting. Faragher asserted that this conduct constituted discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court concluded that Faragher's supervisors' conduct was sufficiently serious to alter the conditions of her employment and constitute an abusive working environment. The court then held that the city could be held liable. In reversing, the en banc Court of Appeals held that Faragher's supervisors were not acting within the scope of their employment when they engaged in the harassing conduct, that knowledge of the harassment could not be imputed to the City, and that the City could not be held liable for negligence in failing to prevent it.

Question

May an employer be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the acts of an employee whose sexual harassment of subordinates has created a hostile work environment amounting to employment discrimination?

Media for Faragher v. City of Boca Raton

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1998 in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Number 97-282, Beth Ann Faragher v. the City of Boca Raton.

Now, Mr. Amlong.

William R. Amlong:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court--

This is an employment discrimination case in which there are two issues facing the Court.

The first is whether the Court of Appeals applied too narrow a standard in the application of agency principles to supervisory liability under Title VII for sexual harassment.

The second is whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the findings of the District Court, who had found constructive and actual knowledge by an agent of the City, Robert Gordon, and had also imputed constructive knowledge to the City through the pervasiveness of the sexual harassment in this case.

The relief that we ask--

William H. Rehnquist:

That isn't precisely the two questions in your petition, is it?

William R. Amlong:

--No, Your Honor.

It's phrased somewhat differently.

William H. Rehnquist:

So the second question in your petition you see as basically Should the Court of Appeals have affirmed the District Court?

William R. Amlong:

Based on the factors I set forth in the petition, Mr. Chief Justice, that there was the pervasiveness that could give rise to constructive knowledge, and it should be re... clearly erroneous standard, that there was notice to an intermediate agent, Mr. Gordon, and that there was no dissemination of the sexual harassment policy.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, what... what do you mean by permit pervasiveness?

William R. Amlong:

I mean, by pervasiveness, Mr. Chief Justice, that there were eight women who were sexually harassed by Mr. Terry and/or Mr. Silverman over a period of 4 years.

That's what the record evidence showed.

And that's what the District Court found.

William H. Rehnquist:

So pervasiveness means multiple victims, then?

William R. Amlong:

Pervasiveness can have more than one meaning.

But in this case, yes, it does, Your Honor.

Pervasiveness in the sense of Harris v. Forklift Systems, could mean one person with... kind of be secret pervasiveness without--

William H. Rehnquist:

Secret pervasiveness.

That's--

William R. Amlong:

--A pervasiveness... a pervasiveness, Mr. Chief Justice, that would apply only to that person.

In this case, the pervasiveness is not only as to Beth Ann Faragher, the Petitioner, who was repeatedly and consistently sexually harassed, but was also to seven other women.

Now, it is that pervasiveness, Your Honor, that I argue gives rise to constructive notice.

It is that pervasiveness, Your Honor, that differs from the pervasiveness in Harris.

Antonin Scalia:

--I don't know how... I mean, constructive notice, I can't imagine how secret pervasiveness could ever... could ever give rise to constructive notice.

William R. Amlong:

Nor can I.--

Antonin Scalia:

Okay.

So you're saying that it was so obvious that the employer must have known about it?