Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked the first time sexual discrimination was banned in employment. Title VII prohibits discrimination by employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations with 15 or more full-time employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It applies to pre-interview advertising, interviewing, hiring, discharge, compensation, promotion, classification, training, apprenticeships, referrals for employment, union membership, terms, working conditions, working atmosphere, seniority, reassignment, and all other “privileges of employ ment.”
In the years immediately following the passage of Title VII, sexual harassment claims were rarely brought under the statute, and when they were, courts dismissed their claims as not applying to the statute. Finally in the mid-1970s, courts began to accept sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination under Title VII.
This trend received an enormous boost with the EEOC’s passage of the first guidelines against sexual harassment in 1980. The guidelines—which courts are not required to follow, specifically stated for the first time that “harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Title VII,” and then the guidelines go on to define sexual harassment. However, these standards remained ambiguous enough as to create some disagreement among appeals courts as to what actually constitutes sexual harassment and defines hostile environment sexual harassment.