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Sexual Harassment in Pennsylvania

Sexual harassment is unlawful in Pennsylvania.  Section 5(a) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and has been interpreted to include sexual harassment that is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. 43 P.S. § 955(a). Moreover, pursuant to its statutory authority to adopt rules and regulations to effectuate the policies and provisions of the PHRA, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has adopted guidelines on sexual harassment that are very similar to those promulgated by the EEOC.

Under federal law, an action for sexual harassment may be brought under two separate theories: “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment.”

To set forth a case of a hostile work environment, an employee must demonstrate “(1) that she is a member of a protected group; (2) that she was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment; (3) that the harassment was based on sex; and (4) that the harassment affected a term, condition or privilege of her employment.

To be actionable, the work environment must have been both objectively and subjectively offensive. An objectively offensive environment is one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, examining all of the circumstances, such as the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating or a mere offensive utterance, and whether the conduct is so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interfered with the employee’s work performance.

Sexual harassment is quid pro quo if a tangible employment action follows the employee’s refusals to submit to a supervisor’s sexual demands.” An employee making a quid pro quo claim need not prove that the conduct was severe or pervasive because any carried-out threat is itself deemed an actionable change in the terms or conditions of employment. Thus, if the employee proves that a tangible employment action resulted from a refusal to submit to a supervisor’s sexual demands, the employment decision is a change in the terms and conditions of employment that is actionable under Title VII.

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