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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
I have tried, tried hard to be a teachable, reasonable woman. But there is something in me that won't be taught.
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.
To assess whether harassing behaviour constitutes an abusive or hostile work environment, the court cites the practice in some American courts that opt for a 'reasonable woman' benchmark.
The remand directed utilization of a "reasonable woman" standard, including shifting of the burden of proof to the mining companies to show that the claimed damages were "not the product of a hostile environment."
In other states, though, the law recognizes that judgments about workplace climate are made differently by men and women, and jurors are asked if a "reasonable woman" would feel harassed by the complainant's actions.7 Recognizing (correctly) that men and women may have differing intuitions on matters of workplace behavior, the reasonable person/reasonable women distinction suggests the deep complexities of the notion of reasonableness and can serve as an entry point for the institutional analysis that we will develop here.
(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.
But in adopting a "reasonable woman" standard, states