The Laws and Ethics

Operational Definitions. Before reexamining the case and coming up with a decision, it is best to start by defining the key terms involved to ensure clarity and to set limitations. First, let us define sexual harassment, Bill Thomas’s main accusation in the case.

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is the "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature… when…  submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions… or such conduct has the purpose or effect of… creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment" (as cited in American Bar Association [ABA], 2007). Sexual harassment in the work place applies to employers with at least 15 employees, including state and local governments. The law also applies to the federal government, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2007) lists a variety of circumstances qualify as sexual harassment including but not limited to the following: the victim or harasser may be a man or a woman and the victim is not necessarily from the opposite sex; “the harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee”; the victim is not limited to the one harassed but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct; “Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim”; “The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome” (Sexual Harassment section, para. 3).

Furthermore, sexual harassment can be categorized into two recognized types: quid pro quo and hostile working environment. In quid pro quo, sexual favors is asked in exchange for promised job benefits, promotions, and keeping the job. The case can only fall under quid pro quo if and only if the harasser is someone more superior or in a higher position than the person being harassed. It is only in such cases that a promise of a promotion or work-related benefit can be made or that a person can threaten to fire another.

In addition, when a case is proved to be a quid pro quo, the employer of the suspect is held to be directly liable even if the employer has no knowledge of the harassment. Such is the case because the employers are technically the ones who provided the harasser with the means of harassment, that is, the employers gave the harasser the power that allowed him or her to make promises and threats (Roberts & Mann, n. d. ). A hostile working environment, on the other hand, ensues when an employee is “subjected to comments of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials, or unwelcome physical contact as a regular part of the work environment” (ABA, 2007). In a hostile working environment, an employer is not automatically held liable for the harassment.

Employers are only held liable if they knew or should have known that the harassment was taking place but failed to take immediate action. “Should have known” is further defined by these criteria: the harassment was openly practiced in the workplace, it is well known among employees, the victim reported the harassment but the employer took no notice. The employer is protected from liability, however, if it took immediate action when sexual harassment was made known and it had existing policies regarding harassment that was made to the employees (Roberts & Mann, n. d. ). Given these definitions, we can now go back to the questions that need to be answered. First, is Vonda guilty of sexual harassment?

If she is, what type of sexual harassment did she commit? Is the employer culpable or not given the existing circumstances of the case? If Bill was using Vonda to get ahead, is Vonda then the victim of this case? Facts of the Case. We start answering the questions above by reviewing what is already known, that is, the obvious facts stated in the case. We begin by examining the intentions of the key players in this case: Bill Thomas, Vonda Hardwick, and Stapleton Brokerage. Bill Thomas’s intention was made very clear at the very beginning. He was an ambitious man who wanted to get ahead in the firm. It was also made clear that he was willing to do anything to get what he wanted.

Vonda Hardwick, on the other hand, was portrayed as shy, reserved, and a tireless worker. Such portrayal may lead us to think of her as the typical spinster who needed a change to break the lonely routine of single life. She had an air of neediness and vulnerability about her. Though her intentions were not explicitly stated, we may conclude that her vulnerability may play as her intention that prod her to enter into a relationship with Bill. For the Stapleton Brokerage, it was made clear that the firm had no intentions of tolerating sexual harassment in the workplace. The firm had policies regarding sexual harassment and it took immediate reaction when Bill filed a sexual harassment complaint against Vonda.

After looking at each key player’s intentions, let us examine the nature of the act in question in this case. The act in itself, which is a torrid love affair between co-workers, is not necessarily. It can be legal (and morally right) if it happened between two consenting adults who are mutually attracted to each other and with no strings attached regarding the work. The act can however be illegal (or morally wrong) if the attentions paid by one party are unwelcome. If the unwelcome attention comes from a supervisor and is directed to an employee, then it is quid pro quo. If the unwelcome attention is between co-workers, then it may generate a hostile work environment.