Reasonable Woman

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Reasonable Woman

A standard used by fact finders in Sexual Harassment litigation to determine whether sexual harassment has occurred.

Under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000e–2000e-2 [1988]), it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex. Under sexual harassment guidelines set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the two basic types of sexual harassment are quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment harassment (29 C.F.R. § 1604 [1993]). Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employer conditions employment opportunities on an employee's submission to unwelcome sexual advances. Hostile environment harassment is unwelcome sexual conduct that interferes with an individual's employment or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. The standard that is used in evaluating whether a person has been subjected to sexual harassment varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction: some use a reasonable person standard, and some use a reasonable woman standard.

In evaluating alleged sexual harassment, the reasonable person standard is an objective standard of perception based on a fictitious, reasonable person. Using this standard in a sexual harassment case, the fact finder would ask whether a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position would have felt that the respondent's actions constituted grounds for a sexual harassment claim. By contrast, a reasonable woman standard allows the fact finder to ask whether a reasonable woman in the plaintiff's position would have felt that the respondent's actions constituted sexual harassment. The difference is that the reasonable woman standard accounts for the different perceptions between men and women regarding words or actions of a sexual nature.

The courts that use the reasonable woman standard recognize a difference between men and women regarding the effect of unwanted sexual interaction. Because women historically have been more vulnerable to rape and sexrelated violence than have men, these courts believe that the proper perspective for evaluating a claim of sexual harassment is that of the reasonable woman.

Further readings

Goldberg, Deborah B. 1995. "The Road to Equality: The Application of the Reasonable Woman Standard in Sexual Harrassment Cases." Cardozo Women's Law Journal 2.


Sex Discrimination; Women's Rights.

References in classic literature ?
I have tried, tried hard to be a teachable, reasonable woman.
When you come to a frigate, of course, you are more confined; though any reasonable woman may be perfectly happy in one of them; and I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship.
And as for her dress, which was entirely of white, and fluttering in the breeze, it was such as no reasonable woman would put upon a little girl, when sending her out to play, in the depth of winter.
84) And, for purposes of the statutorily created tort of sexual harassment, some courts have developed and applied a specialized reasonable woman standard for determining when conduct should be viewed as offensive or damaging.
Luckily the head was a reasonable woman and gave authorised absences for the last week of an Easter term - a week that we knew would be spent not in classes, watching videos and winding down after a long term.
According to a joke doing the rounds, she makes Dolly Bindra -- of Bigg Boss fame-- seem like a sweet, sensible and reasonable woman.
According to a recent article by Israeli media house Haaretz, a 2008 ruling defines rape as "any situation where a person does not tell the truth about characteristics that are critical to a reasonable woman, and in light of misrepresentation, the woman had sexual relations with him.
not only the objective requirement that a reasonable woman might have
Prior to Oncale, the use of a reasonable woman standard and a reasonable victim standard had been discussed because of the potential inadequacy of the broad reasonable person standard (Childers).
In subsequent decades, there was a decline in its use (particularly between 1974-1976 and 1994-1996) in combination with a dramatic increase in the use of reasonable person and the limited use of reasonable woman, so that in 2004-2006, reasonable person is the norm (used ninety-six percent of the time).
After all, no reasonable woman is going to take offence at this book, the only ones who will are the ones who recognise themselves in it.
The most mild-mannered man can become a monster, the most reasonable woman a harridan.