Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Case Brief

Summary of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services

Petitioner: Joseph Oncale

Respondent: Sundowner Offshore Services

Issue: Can a person have cause of action under Title VII for ‘same-sex’ sexual harassment?

Holding: Yes

Facts: The petitioner was working at one of respondent’s service stations and he was part of an eight men team. Three of his male team members gave the petitioner hard time. They committed humiliating sexual acts against the petitioner and they also assaulted him is sexual manner. One of the team member actually threatened to rape the petitioner. When Oncale reported this incident to his supervisor, no actions were taken and as a matter of fact, the petitioner was given more embarrassment by him employer. Petitioner had to leave his job due to the harassment and he filed complaint under Title VII. The District Court used Garcia v. ElfAtochem North America to rule that the petitioner had no cause of action under Title VII for harassment by persons of the same sex as the petitioner. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Legal Reasoning: Fist of all, the court observed that in Castaneda v. Partida, an employee is given the power to bring suit under Title VII for discrimination committed by employer of the same race as the employee. So the court ruled that a person should not be barred from filing complaint under Title VII just because the harasser is of the same sex as the complainer. The court stated that even though the Congress did not originally intend Title VII to cover male-on-male sexual harassment, it is “ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.” The court further observed that its ruling will not make Title VII a “general civility code for Amercian workplace” because the harassment under Title VII will have to be so objectively offensive as to make a person’s work environment intolerable. So the court ruled that a ‘reasonable person’ test will be used to assure that mere verbal taunting is not covered under the provisions of Title VII. The court reversed the lower court’s ruling.

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