Dateline: December, 2010, Issue 3

How do jurors judge the severity of sexual harassment?

The severity of sexual harassment is an important judgment affecting jurors' liability determinations and their damage awards.

Wayne and colleagues (2001) found that jurors make an overall assessment about the severity of sexual harassment based on three factors: inappropriateness of the harassment, seriousness of the harassment, and offensiveness of the harassment. Incidents are judged more severe as they increase in seriousness and offensiveness, and decrease in appropriateness. Incidents are judged less severe as they decrease in seriousness and offensiveness, and increase in appropriateness.

Berkley and Kaplan (2009) find that in a hostile work environment case:

Jurors judge the severity of sexual harassment based on its seriousness, offensiveness, and inappropriateness. Offensiveness (especially) and inappropriateness underlie liability determinations, and seriousness underlies damage awards.

Source Wayne, J.H., Riordan, C.M., & Thomas, K.M. (2001). Is all sexual harassment viewed the same? Mock juror decisions in same- and cross-gender cases. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, pp. 179-187.

Source Berkley, R. A., & Kaplan, D. M. (2009). Assessing liability for sexual harassment: Reactions of potential jurors to email versus face-to-face incidents. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 21, pp. 195-211.