Dateline: June, 2007, Issue 3

How do plaintiff and defendant attractiveness affect verdicts in sexual harassment cases?

Plaintiff and defendant attractiveness matter in sexual harassment cases. Research shows that jurors consider sexual harassment more likely when either the plaintiff is attractive or the defendant is unattractive, regardless of the gender of the litigants.

In 1990, Castellow and colleagues looked at jurors' perceptions of a male defendant accused of sexual harassment by a female plaintiff. Unattractive male defendants were 2.5 times more likely to be found liable by jurors than were attractive male defendants, and attractive female plaintiffs were 2.7 times more likely to win than were unattractive female plaintiffs.

In 2004, Wuensch and Moore looked at jurors' perceptions of a female defendant accused of sexual harassment by a male plaintiff. When the male plaintiff was attractive, jurors were nearly twice as likely to find in favor of the male plaintiff and were more certain of their judgments. The researchers concluded that jurors find it difficult to believe an employer would sexually harass a physically unattractive opposite-sex employee.

In sum, jurors believe attractive plaintiffs are more likely to have been sexually harassed than unattractive plaintiffs, and that unattractive defendants are more likely to have engaged in harassment than attractive defendants.

Source Castellow, W. A., Wuensch, K. L., & Moore, C. H. (1990). Effects of physical attractiveness of plaintiff and defendant in sexual harassment judgments. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 16, pp. 39-50.

Source Wuensch, K. L. & Moore, C. H. (2004). Effects of physical attractiveness on evaluations of a male employee's allegation of sexual harassment by his female employer. The Journal of Social Psychology, 144, pp. 207-217.