This was a case about what sorts of sexual harassment can cause an employer to be held liable for an employee’s actions.
In this case, Kimberly Ellerth was continually harassed by Ted Slowik, one of her supervisors. He made at least three threats against her in which he said that he would retaliate against her if she did not grant him sexual favors. He never carried through on any of his threats. In addition, Ellerth never reported Slowik’s conduct to anyone even though she knew that what he was doing was contrary to company policy. The question was whether Ellerth and Slowik’s employer, Burlington Industries, was liable for Slowik’s conduct.
The Supreme Court held, by a vote of 7 to 2, that Burlington Industries was liable. It held that, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer in such a situation could be held liable for the actions of their employee even if the employer had not been negligent in any way. Burlington Industries would have to prove that it had done what it could to prevent sexual harassment in order to avoid liability. Since the firm did not prove such a thing, it could be held liable.