Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc.

The 1993 case of Theresa Harris marked the Supreme Court’s next foray into sexual harassment law. Harris was a manager who claimed to have been subjected to repeated sexual comments by the company’s president, to the point where she was finally forced to quit her job. The question before the Court was whether Harris had to prove she had suffered tangible psychological injury or whether her simply finding the conduct abusive was enough to prove hostile environment sexual harassment.

In allowing Harris to proceed with her case, the Court took a “middle path” between allowing conduct that was merely offensive and requiring the conduct to cause a tangible psychological injury. According to the Court, the harassment must be severe or pervasive enough to create an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive and also is subjectively perceived by the alleged victim to be abusive. Proof of psychological harm may be relevant to a determination of whether the conduct meets this standard, but it is not necessarily required. Rather, all of the circumstances must be reviewed, including 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 Harris case further broadened sexual harassment law, making it much easier for plaintiffs to prove harm from sexual harassment.


Inside Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc.