Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., No. 92-1168.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtO'Connor
Citation510 U.S. 17
PartiesHARRIS <I>v.</I> FORKLIFT SYSTEMS, INC.
Docket NumberNo. 92-1168.
Decision Date09 November 1993
510 U.S. 17
HARRIS
v.
FORKLIFT SYSTEMS, INC.
No. 92-1168.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued October 13, 1993.
Decided November 9, 1993.

Petitioner Harris sued her former employer, respondent Forklift Systems, Inc., claiming that the conduct of Forklift's president toward her constituted "abusive work environment" harassment because of her gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Declaring this to be "a close case," the District Court found, among other things, that Forklift's president often insulted Harris because of her gender and often made her the target of unwanted sexual innuendos. However, the court concluded that the comments in question did not create an abusive environment because they were not "so severe as to . . . seriously affect [Harris'] psychological well-being" or lead her to "suffe[r] injury." The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: To be actionable as "abusive work environment" harassment, conduct need not "seriously affect [an employee's] psychological well-being" or lead the plaintiff to "suffe[r] injury." Pp. 21-23.

(a) The applicable standard, here reaffirmed, is stated in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U. S. 57: Title VII is violated when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a discriminatorily hostile or abusive working environment, id., at 64, 67. This standard requires an objectively hostile or abusive environment—one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—as well as the victim's subjective perception that the environment is abusive. Pp. 21-22.

(b) Whether an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances, which may include 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 effect on the employee's psychological well-being is relevant in determining whether the plaintiff actually found the environment abusive. But while psychological harm, like any other relevant factor, may be taken into account, no single factor is required. Pp. 22-23.

(c) Reversal and remand are required because the District Court's erroneous application of the incorrect legal standard may well have influenced its ultimate conclusion that the work environment was not intimidating

[510 U.S. 18]

or abusive to Harris, especially given that the court found this to be a "close case." P. 23.

976 F. 2d 733, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SCALIA, J., post, p. 24, and GINSBURG, J., post, p. 25, filed concurring opinions.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Irwin Venick argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Robert Belton and Rebecca L. Brown.

Jeffrey P. Minear argued the cause for the United States et al. as amici curiae in support of petitioner. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Bryson, Acting Assistant Attorney General Turner, Dennis J. Dimsey, Thomas E. Chandler, Donald R. Livingston, Gwendolyn Young Reams, and Carolyn L. Wheeler.

Stanley M. Chernau argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Paul F. Mickey, Jr., Michael A. Carvin, and W. Eric Pilsk.*

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.


In this case we consider the definition of a discriminatorily "abusive work environment" (also known as a "hostile work

510 U.S. 19

environment") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq. (1988 ed., Supp. III).

I

Teresa Harris worked as a manager at Forklift Systems, Inc., an equipment rental company, from April 1985 until October 1987. Charles Hardy was Forklift's president.

The Magistrate found that, throughout Harris' time at Forklift, Hardy often insulted her because of her gender and often made her the target of unwanted sexual innuendos. Hardy told Harris on several occasions, in the presence of other employees, "You're a woman, what do you know" and "We need a man as the rental manager"; at least once, he told her she was "a dumb ass woman." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-13. Again in front of others, he suggested that the two of them "go to the Holiday Inn to negotiate [Harris'] raise." Id., at A-14. Hardy occasionally asked Harris and other female employees to get coins from his front pants pocket. Ibid. He threw objects on the ground in front of Harris and other women, and asked them to pick the objects up. Id., at A-14 to A-15. He made sexual innuendos about Harris' and other women's clothing. Id., at A-15.

In mid-August 1987, Harris complained to Hardy about his conduct. Hardy said he was surprised that Harris was offended, claimed he was only joking, and apologized. Id., at A-16. He also promised he would stop, and based on this assurance Harris stayed on the job. Ibid. But in early September, Hardy began anew: While Harris was arranging a deal with one of Forklift's customers, he asked her, again in front of other employees, "What did you do, promise the guy . . . some [sex] Saturday night?" Id., at A-17. On October 1, Harris collected her paycheck and quit.

Harris then sued Forklift, claiming that Hardy's conduct had created an abusive work environment for her because of her gender. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, adopting the report and recommendation

510 U.S. 20

of the Magistrate, found this to be "a close case," id., at A-31, but held that Hardy's conduct did not create an abusive environment. The court found that some of Hardy's comments "offended [Harris], and would offend the reasonable woman," id., at A-33, but that they were not

"so severe as to be expected to seriously affect [Harris'] psychological well-being. A reasonable woman manager under like circumstances would have been offended by Hardy, but his conduct would not have risen to the level of interfering with that person's work performance.

"Neither do I believe that [Harris] was subjectively so offended that she suffered injury . . . . Although Hardy may at times have genuinely offended [Harris], I do not believe that he created a working environment so poisoned as to be intimidating or abusive to [Harris]." Id., at A-34 to A-35.

In focusing on the employee's psychological well-being, the District Court was following Circuit precedent. See Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co., 805 F. 2d 611, 620 (CA6 1986), cert. denied, 481 U. S. 1041 (1987). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in a brief unpublished decision. Judgt. order reported at 976 F. 2d 733 (1992).

We granted certiorari, 507 U. S. 959 (1993), to resolve a conflict among the Circuits on whether conduct, to be actionable as "abusive work environment" harassment (no quid pro quo harassment issue is present here), must "seriously affect [an employee's] psychological well-being" or lead the plaintiff to "suffe[r] injury." Compare Rabidue (requiring serious effect on psychological well-being); Vance v. Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Co., 863 F. 2d 1503, 1510 (CA11 1989) (same); and Downes v. FAA, 775 F. 2d 288, 292 (CA Fed. 1985) (same), with Ellison v. Brady, 924 F. 2d 872, 877-878 (CA9 1991) (rejecting such a requirement).

510 U.S. 21
II

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it "an unlawful employment practice for an employer...

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9376 practice notes
  • Johnston v. Henderson, No. 00-6445CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • May 1, 2001
    ...insult' that is `sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victims employment.'" Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993)(quoting Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986))......
  • Kopman v. City of Centerville, Civ. No. 10–4093–KES.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • May 11, 2012
    ...or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.” Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993). Because Ostrem can only be liable in his individual capacity for his conduct, the court will fir......
  • Hale v. Hawaii Publications, Inc., Civ. No. 05-00709 ACK-BMK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Hawaii)
    • December 28, 2006
    ...of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment." Ray, 217 F.3d at 1245 (citing Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, Page 1226 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993)). An employer can be vicariously liable for an actionable hostile work environment created by a......
  • St. Juste v. Metro Plus Health Plan, No. 10–CV–4729 (MKB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 28, 2014
    ...that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—is beyond Title VII's purview.” [8 F.Supp.3d 332]Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21–22, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993); see also Russo, 972 F.Supp.2d at 447, 2013 WL 5346427, at *12. “Isolated incidents generally will......
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9333 cases
  • Johnston v. Henderson, No. 00-6445CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • May 1, 2001
    ...insult' that is `sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victims employment.'" Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993)(quoting Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986))......
  • Kopman v. City of Centerville, Civ. No. 10–4093–KES.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • May 11, 2012
    ...or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.” Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993). Because Ostrem can only be liable in his individual capacity for his conduct, the court will fir......
  • Hale v. Hawaii Publications, Inc., Civ. No. 05-00709 ACK-BMK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Hawaii)
    • December 28, 2006
    ...of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment." Ray, 217 F.3d at 1245 (citing Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, Page 1226 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993)). An employer can be vicariously liable for an actionable hostile work environment created by a......
  • St. Juste v. Metro Plus Health Plan, No. 10–CV–4729 (MKB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 28, 2014
    ...that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—is beyond Title VII's purview.” [8 F.Supp.3d 332]Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21–22, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993); see also Russo, 972 F.Supp.2d at 447, 2013 WL 5346427, at *12. “Isolated incidents generally will......
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4 firm's commentaries
  • Annual Report On EEOC Developments - Fiscal Year 2021
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • April 26, 2022
    ...not entitle the charging party to punitive damages.613 605 Id. at *8. 606 Id. 607 Id., quoting Harris v. Fork lift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993).608 Id. at *8. 609 Id. at **8-10. 610 Id. at *10. 611 Id. at **11-12.612 503 F. Supp. 3d 801 ( W.D. Wis. 2020).613 Id. at Littler Mendelson, ......
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    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • September 18, 2021
    ...sexual harassment in the workplace without making every "pass" actionable. For example, in Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 17 (1993), the Supreme Court held that harassing conduct must be "severe" or "pervasive" enough to create an objectively hostile or a......
  • Sexual Harassment Workplace Investigations In The MeToo Era
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • September 18, 2021
    ...sexual harassment in the workplace without making every "pass" actionable. For example, in Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 17 (1993), the Supreme Court held that harassing conduct must be "severe" or "pervasive" enough to create an objectively hostile or a......
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    ...their employment counsel to keep up with recommended practices and avoid unnecessary risks. Footnotes 1. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 2. Bellue v. East Baton Rouge Sheriff, No. 17-00576, 2018 WL 4365529 (M.D. La. Sept. 13, 2018). 3. Allen v. Ambu-Stat, LLC, 799 F. App'x 70......
10 books & journal articles
  • Sex Discrimination Claims Under Title Vii of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law Nbr. XXII-2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...1344–45 (11th Cir. 2000) (citing Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 903–05 (11th Cir. 1982)). 180. See Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993); Butler v. Ysleta Indep. Sch. Dist., 161 F.3d 263, 270 (5th Cir. 1998) (adding the workplace competence factor). 181. See Harris,......
  • How Sexual Harassment Law Failed Its Feminist Roots
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    • Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law Nbr. XXII-1, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...and therefore welcomed them generally”; the court of appeals held that this conclusion was in error). 49. Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993). The word “unwelcome” does not appear at all in the following Supreme Court decisions dealing with harassment under Title VII: Landgraf......
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    • United States
    • Business and Society Review Nbr. 107-4, December 2002
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    ...(1998).498 BUSINESS AND SOCIETY REVIEW 10. Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986).11. Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17 (1993).12. Young v. Southwestern Savings and Loan, 509 F.2d 140 (5th Cir. 1975).13. Jones v. Flagship International, 793 F.2d 914 (5th Cir. 19......
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    • Georgetown Law Journal Nbr. 109-3, February 2021
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    ...aff’d sub nom. Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). 44. Vinson, 753 F.2d at 152. 45. Meritor, 477 U.S. at 68. 46. 510 U.S. 17, 20 (1993). 47. Id. at 21. 48. Id. at 22. 49. Vicki Schultz, Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment, 107 YALE L.J. 1683, 1686 (1998) [hereinafter Sc......
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