How Did Diverse Activists in the Second Wave of the Women's Movement
Shape Emerging Public Policy on Sexual Harassment?


Lin Farley and Susan Meyer, 1973
Courtesy Anne Dockery

Documents selected and interpreted by
Carrie N. Baker
Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia
September 2005

   Many have credited Catharine MacKinnon with creating the legal claim of sexual harassment in the United States. She has been described as the "prime architect of sexual harassment jurisprudence" and has been given credit in the popular press for proposing and popularizing the idea that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.1 Historians and movement memoirists have done little to challenge these popular perceptions, usually treating the issue in a cursory fashion with MacKinnon mentioned prominently.2 As one scholar put it, rarely "has an author been as closely identified with a new cause of action as Catharine MacKinnon has been with sexual harassment."3 MacKinnon's 1979 book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, and her participation in the first Supreme Court case on sexual harassment, in particular, have garnered her a founder's role in the field of sexual harassment. More generally, the development of sexual harassment law is attributed to the second wave of the women's movement, which is often characterized as being composed mainly of white, middle-class women.4 Legal scholar Elvia Arriola has argued that current sexual harassment law has class and race biases because the policy developed in response to "the political outcry and strength of a predominately white, middle class women's movement." Arriola criticizes second-wave feminists for failing to pay sufficient attention to "class, race, ethnicity and sexuality" and for not grounding their feminist practice in an "experiential basis."5

   A closer look at the history of the emergence of sexual harassment activism, however, reveals a diverse group of people involved in conceptualizing and theorizing sexual harassment, and creating legal prohibitions against it. African-American women, blue-collar women, as well as middle-class white women participated in different ways to create a powerful movement that changed the social landscape of U.S. workplaces and schools. Activists against sexual harassment approached the problem on three fronts. First, individual women around the country began filing lawsuits in the early 1970s. Second, the organized women's movement began to raise awareness about sexual harassment through speak-outs, surveys, and media work. Third, individuals, representatives of feminist organizations, union activists, and government officials lobbied Congress for changes in public policy.

   At the intersection of these three strands of activism emerged increased awareness of sexual harassment, government policies to discourage it, and legal prohibitions against it. A diverse group of activists worked to achieve these social reforms. Black women brought many of the early and precedent-setting lawsuits; white, middle-class feminists did much early consciousness raising around the issue; and representatives of blue-collar, working-class women urged governments to adopt prohibitions of a broad range of harassing conduct. The backgrounds and identities of the early participants in the movement against sexual harassment shaped their experiences of sexual harassment, as well as their strategies and resources for addressing the problem. This project presents documentary evidence of how this racially and economically diverse array of activists first articulated the issue of sexual harassment in the 1970s.

Part I: Lawsuits

   The first activism against sexual harassment took the form of lawsuits filed by individual women around the country against employers who tolerated sexual coercion on the job. In the early 1970s, several women who had been fired from their jobs for refusing the sexual advances of their bosses brought lawsuits challenging this treatment as a form of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex and race discrimination in employment.6 Defendants characterized women's grievances as personal and trivial, as a matter of "bad manners," or a misunderstanding not worthy of legal redress. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, argued that sexual harassment was a pervasive phenomenon that had a devastating and disproportionate impact on women. From 1974 to 1976, six federal district courts across the country issued written opinions addressing the issue of sexual harassment: Barnes v. Train (District of Columbia, August 1974), Corne v. Bausch and Lomb, Inc. (Tucson, Arizona, March 1975), Garber v. Saxon Industries (Fairfax, Virginia, March 1976), Williams v. Saxbe (District of Columbia, April 1976), Miller v. Bank of America (California, August 1976), and Tomkins v. Public Service Electric and Gas, Inc. (New Jersey, November 1976).7 These six cases were the leading sexual harassment cases in the 1970s and were widely discussed in the media and among legal scholars and feminists.8 All but one of these courts ruled that sexual harassment was not sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. Judges dismissed these early cases by arguing that sexual harassment was a personal, isolated problem that was neither gender-based nor employment-related (see Document 1). On April 24, 1976, federal district court Judge Charles Richey in Washington D.C. issued the first decision ruling in favor of a sexual harassment victim under Title VII in the case of Williams v. Saxbe (see Document 2). This groundbreaking decision was covered widely in the press, but greeted with derision by editorialists around the country.9

   Three of the six women who brought these early cases were African American-Paulette Barnes, Diane Williams, and Margaret Miller--whose consciousness about race discrimination informed their understanding that sexual propositions in the workplace were discriminatory. Both Barnes and Williams worked at federal agencies in Washington D.C. that addressed race discrimination. Barnes and Miller initially filed their complaints as race discrimination complaints as well as sex discrimination claims. The Washington D.C.-based Organization of Black Activist Women argued in an amicus curiae brief they filed in 1976 in the Williams case that black women were particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment (see Document 3). Racist and sexist stereotypes often melded in the harassment directed toward African-American women, giving them a particularly clear understanding of the discriminatory nature of sexual overtures in the workplace. Familiar with civil rights law in the area of race, these African-American women thought to use racial harassment precedents under Title VII to fight sexual coercion in the workplace.10 These early African-American plaintiffs' race-consciousness and familiarity with issues of discrimination helped them articulate their experiences of sexual harassment as sex discrimination.

Part II: The Movement against Sexual Harassment Grows

   In the meantime, organized resistance to sexual harassment began to emerge. The first two organizations formed specifically to combat sexual harassment--Working Women United in Ithaca, New York and the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion in Cambridge, Massachusetts--grew out of the 1970s women's movement. They emerged at the intersection of liberal feminist opposition to employment discrimination and radical feminist opposition to violence against women, bringing together women's workplace concerns and concerns about male sexual aggression.

A. Working Women United in Ithaca, New York

   The formation of Working Women United in the spring of 1975 was inspired by the case of Carmita Wood, a 44-year-old mother of four who was denied unemployment compensation after she resigned as an administrative assistant to a Cornell professor because she had become physically ill from the stress of fending off his sexual advances. Wood sought support from the women's section of the Human Affairs Program (HAP) at Cornell University. Established in response to student uprisings in the late 1960s, HAP offered public interest-oriented courses on topics such as prison reform, urban redevelopment, and money and banking, incorporating in the courses fieldwork in the surrounding community.11 HAP established a women's section in the fall of 1974 and hired Lin Farley, who taught a course on women and work. A journalist who had worked as an Associated Press reporter, Farley was a longtime activist in radical feminist politics.12 In early 1975, Farley recruited two friends to work with her at HAP, Susan Meyer and Karen Sauvigné, who had also been involved in radical feminist politics.

   When Carmita Wood sought help from HAP, Farley, Meyer, and Sauvigné immediately offered their support. The issue of sexual coercion on the job had come up in Farley's class in the fall of 1974. Because of a scarcity of analytical literature on women and work, Farley had turned to the important feminist tool of consciousness-raising: women in the class talked about their experiences as women on the job. In the second wave of the women's movement, consciousness-raising was used by feminists to articulate women's concerns on a range of issues, such as rape, abortion, and domestic violence. On the issue of sexual harassment, consciousness-raising proved just as useful. It soon became apparent to Farley that "each one of us had already quit or been fired from a job at least once because we had been made too uncomfortable by the behavior of men."13 According to Sauvigné,

Lin's students had been talking in her seminar about the unwanted sexual advances they'd encountered on their summer jobs. And then Carmita Wood comes in and tells Lin her story. We realized that to a person, every one of us— the women on staff, Carmita, the students—had had an experience like this at some point, you know? And none of us had ever told anyone before. It was one of those click, aha! moments, a profound revelation.14

Farley, Meyer, and Sauvigné realized that sexual harassment was widespread among women.15

   Because of its pervasiveness, the women quickly recognized that sexual harassment was an "important issue to develop in the feminist movement" and they attacked the problem legally and politically.16 First, they organized legal support for Wood. While Wood's case did not involve Title VII, the women at HAP immediately realized the potential of Title VII for combating sexual harassment. In a March 28, 1975 letter, Sauvigné argued that Title VII should protect women from sex-based intimidation on the job.17 A news article in the 5 April 1975 issue of the Ithaca Journal quoted Farley making the same point.18 Sauvigné attempted to find other people working on the issue. Using mailing lists from the ACLU, Karen Sauvigné sent a letter to female lawyers asking them if they had any cases involving sexual harassment, and she surveyed women's organizations about the issue. She did not receive many responses, but she did receive one from Catharine MacKinnon.19

   Farley, Meyer, and Sauvigné also sought to attack the problem politically by forming a working women's organization, which they called Working Women United (WWU), and planning a speak-out "in order to break the silence." In preparing publicity for the speak-out, they coined the term "sexual harassment" (see Document 4). On the afternoon of Sunday, May 4, 1975, in the pouring rain, two hundred and seventy-five women showed up at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center for the sexual harassment speak-out sponsored by Working Women United, HAP, and the Ithaca chapter of NOW.20 About twenty women testified passionately about the devastating impact of sexual harassment on their lives (see Document 5). The women who spoke were diverse—young and old, black and white, and from a variety of occupations. This speak-out swelled the ranks of Working Women United, which then began to issue a newsletter called Labor Pains. The first issue appeared in August 1975 and prominently featured coverage of the issue of sexual harassment (see documents 6A-6S). The activities of Working Women United led to the first national press coverage of sexual harassment in that same month, when the New York Times published a story by Enid Nemy on the speak-out (see Document 7).

B. Alliance Against Sexual Coercion in Cambridge, Massachusetts

   The other significant organization formed in the mid-1970s to address sexual harassment was the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion (AASC), founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in June 1976 by Freada Klein, Lynn Wehrli, and Elizabeth Cohn-Stuntz. Before moving to Boston, Klein, Wehrli, and Cohn-Stuntz had worked at the Washington, D.C., Rape Crisis Center and had become concerned about the number of women they encountered who were facing sexual coercion on the job. They realized the unique legal and emotional problems of women sexually coerced by their bosses and co-workers and saw that neither rape crisis centers nor working women's organizations provided services that addressed the needs of these women.

   To address these needs, AASC formed as a collective in June 1976 and focused exclusively on sexual harassment. Members provided crisis intervention counseling in the first year but focused mostly on conducting intensive research into understanding sexual harassment and developing ways to deal with it.21 In August 1976, AASC surveyed over 200 rape crisis centers and working women's groups about employment-related sexual assault. Every group that responded had received these types of calls, but few of them had information on the issue and none of them had programs to help women deal with it.22 Originally, AASC focused on developing a sexual harassment protocol for rape crisis centers with the hope that rape crisis centers would take on this issue, but later it became clear that rape and sexual harassment were very different issues.23

   AASC's research resulted in the organization's development of a theory about the causes of sexual harassment. In late 1976, AASC published its first position paper, written by Klein and Wehrli (see Document 8). The position paper was based on Wehrli's master's thesis, an in-depth theoretical study of sexual harassment, "Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: A Feminist Analysis and Strategy for Social Change" (see Document 9). Written with the help of Klein and other AASC members, Wehrli's thesis documented AASC's early theoretical analysis of sexual harassment and further developed the theme of male power through what she called a "dominance" theory of sexual harassment. She argued that sexual harassment in the workplace was both an expression of and a means of perpetuating the unequal power relationships between men and women and between employers and employees.

   AASC moved from a theoretical examination of sexual harassment to practical issues concerning how best to help victims of sexual harassment. In December of 1976, AASC organized a strategy meeting of women from local feminist organizations to come together and share their ideas on how to deal with sexual harassment most effectively. AASC also publicized the issue by helping to organize and participating in the first Take Back the Night march in Boston in 1977.24 The responses of women's organizations were mixed. Many activists believed that sexual harassment was not an important issue--they did not realize how widespread the problem was or how devastating it could be.25

   In June of 1977, AASC began providing a broad range of services to victims of sexual harassment that had been suggested in the strategy meeting, including emotional support, legal information and referrals, unemployment eligibility information, vocational and educational counseling referrals, and rap groups. They operated a telephone hotline for sexually harassed women. AASC also produced an informational brochure, which presented their analysis of sexual harassment and suggested responses (see Document 10). AASC often characterized sexual harassment as an issue of violence against women (see Document 11). AASC focused on workplace sexual harassment, but also was concerned about other forms of harassment and later became very involved with sexual harassment in education. In addition to offering assistance to individuals, AASC helped women's groups in other communities develop similar services and conducted educational programs, seminars and workshops on sexual harassment.26 As they stated in promotional materials, AASC sought to "serve as a clearinghouse for cases and additional information" involving sexual harassment.27

C. Ideological Divisions Among the Early Activists

   While activists often worked together on the issue of sexual harassment, divisions emerged in how they thought about the issue--both in analyses of the causes of sexual harassment and in formulations of the best strategies to combat it. One division was between those who viewed patriarchy as the primary cause of sexual harassment--including Lin Farley of Working Women United (WWU)--and those who focused on an interlocking matrix of oppressions--including Freada Klein of the AASC. WWU looked primarily to legal solutions for sexual harassment, while AASC focused on alternative means of fighting sexual harassment. Some feminists, including several AASC members, argued that sexual harassment was caused by the intersecting influences of the American systems of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism (see documents 12, 13, and 14).

   On the other hand, Lin Farley argued that sexual harassment originated with patriarchal relations rather than with capitalism in her 1978 book Sexual Shakedown, the first book published on sexual harassment. She argued that "sexual harassment of women at work arose out of man's need to maintain his control of female labor" (see Document 15). In a review of Farley's book in Aegis, Freada Klein criticized Farley for focusing exclusively on patriarchy as the cause of sexual harassment, to the exclusion of class and race (see Document 16). In the next issue of Aegis, Farley defended her emphasis on patriarchal relations as the source of sexual harassment, noting that "the idea that capitalism itself somehow came up with the idea of sexual harassment is absurd" (see Document 17). While members of WWU focused on legal avenues of relief for sexual harassment, members of AASC expressed skepticism about the potential of the American legal system to redress the issue (see documents 18 and 19).

D. The Issue of Sexual Harassment Hits the Mainstream Press in 1977

   By late 1977, WWU was defunct and its sister organization, Working Women United Institute (WWUI), created in August of 1975 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to do research and education on sexual harassment, had moved to New York. Susan Meyer served as the Executive Director and Karen Sauvigné was the Program Director. In its first few years, the Institute worked to raise awareness of sexual harassment through the media and public speaking, provided information and referrals to victims of sexual harassment, built a resource library and a legal brief bank, conducted research on sexual harassment, and supported public policy initiatives. Meyer and Sauvigné also tried to get other organizations to work on the issue. They experienced resistance at first, but were soon able to convince other feminists within the women's movement of the importance of the issue.28

   Just as WWU began as a result of the May 4 speak-out in Ithaca, Working Women United Institute sprung to prominence in New York City in October of 1977 with a speak-out co-sponsored by Ms., which did a cover story on sexual harassment in its November issue (see Document 20A). About 200 women attended the four-hour speak-out held on Saturday, October 22 at the Community Church of New York on the lower east side. Speakers included Gloria Steinem, Susan Meyer, Karen Sauvigné, Jill Goodman of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, Robin Morgan, and Karen Lindsey, a writer for Ms.29 Ten women presented prepared testimony, including Adrienne Tomkins, Freada Klein, and Lin Farley; then many more women spoke during an "open mike" period.

   The speak-out received television and newspaper coverage, including a New York Times article.30 Ms. promoted the issue of sexual harassment to the press, which led to broad press coverage of the issue. In addition to the November cover story in Ms., many other magazines and newspapers ran stories on sexual harassment.31 Meyer and Sauvigné began to appear regularly on television and radio shows, including "Good Morning America," the "Phil Donahue Show," and the "Mike Douglas Show."32 For this groundbreaking work, Meyer and Sauvigné received the Mademoiselle Award in 1977. They attended many speak-outs and conducted workshops on sexual harassment for harassed women, private corporations, foundations, unions, the government, and voluntary organizations.33 The speak-out publicity also led to an explosion of calls to AASC from sexually harassed women and from the press.34 The activism of WWUI and AASC raised public awareness about sexual harassment through the media and contributed to the reversal of the early legal cases denying relief to sexual harassment victims.

Part III: Federal Courts Establish a Strong Precedent that Sexual Harassment is Sex
Discrimination in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

   On appeal, courts reversed the early cases denying legal relief to victims of sexual harassment, ruling that sexual harassment violated the Civil Right Act of 1964.35 In July 1977, the first federal appellate court held in Barnes v. Costle that sexual harassment violated Title VII of the civil rights act. Written by D.C. Circuit Court Judge Spottswood Robinson, an African-American man who had been a leader in the civil rights movement before being appointed to the bench, the opinion established a strong precedent in favor of sexual harassment victims (see Document 21). Concurring in the case was Judge George E. MacKinnon, Catharine MacKinnon's father.36 The Barnes case was highly influential in the development of sexual harassment law. Over the years, this decision was cited by over seventy courts, mentioned or discussed by many other courts, and discussed in hundreds of law review articles and legal treatises.37

   The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia was the second appellate court to issue a detailed written opinion upholding a sexual harassment claim under Title VII in the case of Tomkins v. Public Service Electric and Gas Company (see Document 22). In November 1977, the Third Circuit reversed Judge Stern's dismissal of Adrienne Tomkins's sexual harassment claim. The Tomkins case is particularly significant because it was the first time public interest organizations officially became involved in a sexual harassment case and the first time explicitly sociological arguments were made in the briefs filed in a sexual harassment case (see Document 23). The plaintiff's attorney, Nadine Taub, recruited two public interest organizations to file a joint amicus curiae brief in the case: the Equal Rights Advocates and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, both based in San Francisco. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also filed an amicus brief. At oral argument, according to Taub, "we packed the courtroom with students," which Taub believed demonstrated to the judges how important the issue of sexual harassment was to women.38 Tomkins has been widely cited by courts over time and was extensively discussed in law reviews and in the media.39

Part IV: Sexual Harassment in Education

   At about the same time these decisions were coming down, there emerged the first organized resistance to sexual harassment on a college campus. Students at Yale University organized the Grievance Committee in March of 1977 to investigate sexual harassment of students at Yale and to petition the school to establish an official grievance procedure specifically for sexual harassment.40 On July 7, 1977, three students and one faculty member-- Ronnie Alexander, Lisa Stone, Ann Olivarius, and John Winkler--sued Yale for sexual harassment in a case entitled Alexander v. Yale. Two other students, Margery Reifler and Pamela Price, were added later to the suit. The plaintiffs were represented by attorney Anne Simon of the New Haven Law Collective, who was assisted by recent Yale law school graduate Catharine MacKinnon.

   While the lawsuit was pending, students worked to generate financial, political and moral support for the lawsuit by sponsoring discussion sessions, distributing fact sheets, conducting a college-wide petition drive, organizing a faculty support committee, and soliciting support from campus organizations. Members of the Grievance Committee wrote articles and editorials for university and community newspapers, appeared on radio and television talk shows, and spoke to groups in the community and at other colleges. The Grievance Committee, along with the New Haven Law Collective, issued numerous press releases during the course of the lawsuit and distributed personal statements by the plaintiffs in the case. To raise funds, the Grievance Committee sold T-shirts, sponsored benefit performances and speeches, with speakers such as Robin Morgan and Marge Piercy, and solicited funds from foundations and individuals. 41 The Council of Third World Women at Yale also became very involved, especially as the trial approached and the students began negotiating with the University about adopting sexual harassment grievance procedures. 42 White women and women of color worked together to support the case.

   On December 21, 1977, a district court in Connecticut held that sexual harassment violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law amending the Civil Rights Act to prohibit sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal money (see Document 24).43 The court dismissed most of the plaintiffs' claims, but allowed the claim of Pamela Price to go to trial. Price, who was black, alleged that one of her male professors, Raymond Duvall, who was white, offered to give her an "A" in his International Relations class in exchange for sexual compliance. Price alleged she received a "C" when she refused her professor's sexual demands. Price complained to Yale officials but nothing was done.

   Alexander v. Yale received national press coverage in newspapers and magazines.44 The coverage, however, often trivialized sexual harassment. The New York Times published an editorial by Russell Baker on July 26, 1977, shortly after the case was filed, entitled "The Courts of First Resort," in which Russell scathingly criticized the students for bringing the suit (see Document 25). Still, progress in the case activated students around the country, stimulating widespread concern about sexual harassment of students by professors.45 Despite his promising start, Price eventually lost her case at trial. Although the issue of race was largely ignored in the reported decisions and in the press, an awareness of the significance of race in this case permeated the students' discussions of sexual harassment, according to Anne Simon, a lawyer working on the case (see Document 26).46

Part V: Federal Initiatives Against Sexual Harassment

A. First Federal Regulations Against Sexual Harassment

   In the mid- to late-1970s, organized activism against sexual harassment emerged among women working in blue-collar settings. Whereas the sexual harassment activism described so far focused on quid pro quo harassment, where a supervisor demands sexual acts in exchange for employment benefits, blue-collar women raised the issue of hostile environment harassment, where supervisors or co-workers create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. In the 1970s, women breaking into traditionally male occupations such as construction, coal mining, and engineering battled sexual harassment. Several cases involving harassment arose under Executive Orders 11246 and 11375, which prohibited federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sex.47 Female construction workers across the country filed two lawsuits in 1976 protesting hiring practices and harassment of women in the construction industry. In response to the lawsuit, the Department of Labor held hearings at which women testified about their experiences of harassment. The Department of Labor proposed and eventually adopted the first federal regulations against workplace harassment based on sex in August of 1977. The regulations required federal construction contractors to hire more women and to ensure a workplace free of "harassment, intimidation, and coercion." They also required contractors to assign women in pairs to construction projects if possible so that women could support each other if necessary (see Document 27).48

   Female coal miners also fought sexual harassment in the 1970s. In a 1977 case before the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, miner Frieda Myers won a $2,000 conciliation agreement from Peabody Coal Company because she was stripped and greased by her male co-workers. In the conciliation agreement, Peabody agreed to issue a policy statement to "adopt safe working conditions for all employees and particularly to insure that female employees shall not be subjected to abuse, insult or injury related to their sex."49

   The Coal Employment Project (CEP), based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, worked extensively on the issue of sexual harassment. Battling the long-held superstition that women were "bad luck" in the mines, CEP formed in 1977 to help women break into coal mining (see Document 37). In response to a lawsuit filed by CEP on behalf of women miners against 153 mining companies, the Department of Labor initiated a federal investigation of the entire coal mining industry. In 1978, a settlement in the case provided for hiring quotas, back pay, and affirmative action programs to protect women miners from discrimination and harassment underground. This lawsuit increased the number of female coal miners. According to federal statistics, the number of women miners jumped from none in 1972 to 992 in 1977 to 2,940 in 1979, at which time 11.4% of all entry-level underground coal miners were women.50 As this change occurred, women miners experienced significant harassment, particularly hostile environment harassment, and they continued to organize against it.51

B. Congressional Hearings in 1979 Lead to Federal Government Policy on Sexual

   The activism of the 1970s culminated in late 1979 when the issue of sexual harassment came to the attention of Congress. In 1979, Congressman James M. Hanley, Chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, held hearings on sexual harassment in the federal workplace, generating major press coverage of sexual harassment. At these hearings, an array of activists testified on sexual harassment (see Document 29).

   On April 30, 1980, the subcommittee issued a report, "Sexual Harassment in the Federal Government," explaining the origin of the investigation, the findings of the subcommittee, and the initiatives taken to combat harassment (see Document 32). Out of these hearings resulted three important government initiatives. First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission proposed broad guidelines against sexual harassment, applicable to both the government and the private sector. These guidelines were broad in that they prohibited both quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environmental sexual harassment. Several feminist organizations, including Working Women's Institute (the successor organization to WWUI), Women's Legal Defense Fund, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, AASC, Women in the Trades, and the National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs, submitted extensive comments on these guidelines (see documents 33A-33E). These guidelines were eventually adopted in 1981 and were very influential on judicial interpretations of Title VII and on developing state-level prohibitions of sexual harassment (see Document 34). Second, the United States Office of Personnel Management developed a policy and employee training program to combat sexual harassment that served as a model not only for agencies throughout the federal government but also for private employers nationwide (see Document 30). Finally, the Merit System Protection Board conducted the first comprehensive scientific survey of sexual harassment, revealing extensive harassment of women in the federal workplace (see Document 36). Press coverage of the hearings and the federal initiatives resulting from the hearings was extensive, raising public awareness of the issue.52

   Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 threatened these new initiatives. On April 21, 1981, the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, chaired by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, held hearings on sexual harassment as part of a series of hearings on sex discrimination in the workplace.53 A wide range of activists came together to fight attempts to weaken the EEOC guidelines and enforcement capacity; those testifying included Eleanor Holmes Norton, Karen Sauvigné, Joan Vermeulen of Working Women's Institute, and Pat Baldwin and Betty Jean Hall of the Coal Employment Project. Adrienne Tomkins and another sexual harassment plaintiff Sandra Bundy, among others, submitted written testimony. The hearing focused not only on sexual harassment, but also on Reagan administration initiatives to eliminate affirmative action and cut the budgets of the EEOC and the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the two federal agencies primarily responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. The Senate did not weaken the EEOC guidelines, but the Reagan administration's attempts to weaken the EEOC hobbled enforcement of the guidelines in the 1980s.

Part VI: State and Local Policies on Sexual Harassment

   In the late 1970s, while federal law against sexual harassment was developing in the courts and the federal government was beginning to act on sexual harassment, state and local governments also turned to the issue. Wisconsin was the first state to pass a statute explicitly prohibiting sexual harassment in employment in 1978.54 The Wisconsin legislature amended its Fair Employment Act to prohibit employers from making employment benefits contingent on consent to "sexual contact or sexual intercourse," which, because of its very narrow definition, reached only the most severe forms of harassment. Michigan, on the other hand, passed a broad prohibition of sexual harassment in 1980. Publicity from the September 1977 ruling in the case of Munford v. James T. Barnes and Co., brought by a young African-American woman, led to the formation of the Michigan Task Force on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, the first state-level movement against sexual harassment. The case became widely known in Michigan because the plaintiff, Maxine Munford, shared her experiences through testimony at public hearings on sexual harassment and various appearances on Michigan radio and television talk shows.55 Due to the activism of Munford and the Task Force, the Michigan Legislature passed one of the first and most progressive state laws against sexual harassment (see Document 35).

   Cities also began to issue policies prohibiting sexual harassment. In the spring of 1979, the Organization of Black Activist Women organized women working in Washington D.C. to speak up about sexual harassment. After several city employees complained of sexual harassment in the spring of 1979, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry appointed a task force to make recommendations on how to deal with sexual harassment. Based on this task force's recommendations, Mayor Barry issued an executive order in May of 1979 prohibiting sexual harassment and establishing procedures to address the problem (see Document 28C).56 Federal initiatives to study and prevent sexual harassment in the late 1970s were inspired by publicity generated from these developments.

Part VII: The Supreme Court Speaks

   The activism of the 1970s set the stage for the successful development of sexual harassment law in the 1980s. Willie Ruth Hawkins won a precedent-setting co-worker harassment case in Minnesota in 1980 and Sandra Bundy won a case establishing a federal appellate precedent that hostile environmental harassment violated Title VII. In 1986, Mechelle Vinson won a Supreme Court case, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, in which the Court ruled for the first time that both quid pro quo and hostile environment sexual harassment violated Title VII (see Document 38). As with those who brought many of the early sexual harassment cases (Williams, Barnes, Price, and Munford), all of these precedent-setting cases were brought by African-American women.57 Washington D.C. attorney Patricia Berry represented Vinson throughout the litigation with the assistance of Catharine MacKinnon on the brief before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1979, MacKinnon had published her book, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, which was an in-depth legal analysis of sexual harassment. MacKinnon developed a "dominance approach" to understanding sexual harassment, similar to the approach offered by Lynn Wehrli in her 1976 master's thesis. MacKinnon also used feminist theory on rape to explain sexual harassment, as well as theories of race discrimination, frequently comparing race and sex discrimination and drawing parallels between sexual harassment, rape, and racial harassment (see Document 31).

Part VIII: Conclusion: The Diversity of the Early Movement Against Sexual Harassment

   Activism against sexual harassment was a broad-based movement that emerged in the 1970s and transformed the American workplace. The backgrounds and identities of the activists shaped their experiences of sexual harassment and their activism against it. Drawing on the ideas and resources of their communities, African-American women had a significant impact on the development of sexual harassment law by winning many precedent-setting cases and speaking out to policymakers and the media about the issue. They drew upon the resources of the African-American community and the non-discrimination theories of the civil rights movement to shape public policy on sexual harassment.

   Middle-class white women, who were the majority of activists in Working Women United and the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion, drew upon the resources of the women's movement, which provided an organizational base, communication networks, strategies, and ideology for those organizing against sexual harassment. They also used many of the strategies of the women's movement, holding speak-outs, exposing the myths about sexual harassment in "myth/fact sheets," using the courts, and demanding legal and institutional reforms. Ideologically, these activists drew upon a central principle of the anti-rape movement--that rape was not about sex but about violence--when they argued that sexual harassment also was not about sex but about power and economic abuse, and amounted to employment discrimination.

   Finally, the background and identities of working-class women, both white and black, shaped their experiences of sexual harassment and their activism. Women working in male-dominated blue-collar fields like mining and construction experienced male hostility to their presence that often took the form not only of sexual abuse, but also of physical violence in order to push them out of male-dominated workplaces. Working through unions and employee associations, these women urged courts and policymakers to broaden their definitions of sexual harassment beyond a supervisor's sexual demands of a subordinate employee to include hostile environment harassment. The activism of these diverse groups of people significantly contributed to revolutionizing gender relations in U.S. society.


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