Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-60 prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” that is made a term or condition of employment or that is used a basis for employment decisions. This type of sexual harassment is commonly referred to as quid pro quo harassment. When such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment, such claims are referred to as hostile environment claims.
When an employee suffers a “tangible employment action” such as being denied employment, or being fired, suspended or demoted based on a refusal to submit to sexual harassment at the hands of a supervisor the employer is strictly liable for the harm caused by this action. On the other hand, hostile environment claims arise when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult based on sex that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Hostile environment claims are subject to an affirmative defense by the employer when the conduct is alleged to have been engaged in by a co-worker and the employer has established a mechanism for promptly responding to complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.