US Supreme Court To Resolve Sexual Harassment Issue

December 2, 2003 ( - The nation's high court is expected to further clarify when employers can be sued for sexual harassment in a case involving a former Pennsylvania State Policy dispatcher who claimed her male bosses' harassment forced her to quit.

>The case – involving Nancy Drew Suders who left the position after she said her bosses told her dirty jokes and urged her to perform sex acts – presents a legal issue US Supreme Court justices have never ruled on, according to news reports (see  Court: Sexual Harassment Proof Invalidates Corporate Defense ). Namely: whether people who leave their job voluntarily and then claim they were sexually harassed have the same protections as those who were fired.

>Suders, a 54-year-old grandmother, alleged that one state police supervisor frequently talked about animals having sex with people and that he once said fathers should teach their daughters how to give oral sex. She alleges that another supervisor, a pro-wrestling buff, frequently grabbed his crotch and yelled “Suck it!” – his rendition of a move made popular by DeGeneration X of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Suders, now a deputy sheriff in Fulton County in south-central Pennsylvania, resigned from the state police in August 1998, after her bosses accused her of rifling through drawers at the McConnellsburg barracks in Fulton County. No charges were filed against her. Her supervisors denied her harassment charges and said she was disorganized, often late for work and overwhelmed by the duties.

The court’s eventual Suders ruling represents a follow-up to a Supreme Court ruling five years ago. Then, justices found companies can be liable for workplace harassment, even if top managers didn’t know about the behavior, when it results in “tangible employment action” against the harassed worker, such as firing or demotion. Suders argues the category should include people who feel as if they have no choice but to resign, and then sue later for harassment.