I’m old enough to remember a time when sexual harassment wasn’t illegal, in the era before the courts began to apply Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to such claims. I have vivid memories of getting a “back rub” from a manager in the small office where I was doing temporary secretarial work during a college vacation. It was, frankly, creepy, but I had no real recourse. I needed the job, and from a practical standpoint, there really wasn’t anyone I could complain to. From a legal standpoint, sexual harassment didn’t become actionable under Title VII until 1977, and it wasn’t until 1988 that the courts began to consider “hostile work environment” a valid claim of sexual harassment.
Now, of course, hostile work environment is a term that covers all forms of harassment focused on or because of an individual’s membership in a protected class, and it’s also used by employees who are merely objecting to a boss they believe is harsh or unreasonable or a workplace environment that’s toxic because employees just don’t get along. But you would think employers have learned that sexual conduct in the workplace is simply too risky to tolerate.