Consequences of Sexual Harassment


Sexual harassment injures both the individuals involved and the university. It also damages the campus climate for all of us. Possible consequences include:

 For the Individuals

  • emotional and psychological harm
  • diminished ability to work and study, which may have a lasting career impact
  • lost confidence in the university's ability to provide a comfortable and safe environment for work and learning
  • potential personal liability for damages if unlawful conduct is deemed outside the scope of employment

For the University

  • general disruption and reduced productivity and morale
  • diminished reputation that may impair efforts to attract, recruit, and retain students, faculty and staff
  • time spent responding to complaint investigators and lawyers
  • increased absenteeism and turnover
  • costs that may be substantial, including back pay, lost benefits, attorney fees and expert witness fees
  • compensatory and punitive damages

Legal Liability


While we have a collective responsibility to provide a work and learning environment free of sexual harassment, the university's leaders must be proactive in preventing sexual harassment and responding in a timely and effective manner to allegations of sexual harassment. Actions taken by individuals in positions of authority (e.g., principal investigators, supervisors, managers, department chairs, directors, deans) are pivotal to the determination of legal liability when lawsuits or complaints are filed with federal or state enforcement agencies.

In cases where sexual harassment by a supervisor culminates in a tangible employment action, the university may be liable in spite of preventive and corrective actions and the absence of fault on the part of senior administrators.

In cases where a supervisor creates a sexual harassment hostile environment, the university may be liable unless:

  1. the university took reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassing behavior, and
  2. the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective steps provided by the university to avoid harm.

In cases of sexual harassment between co-workers, the university may be liable for harassment if the university (through its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy effects that could reasonably have been prevented.

In cases of sexual harassment by non-employees, such as customers, program participants or suppliers, the university may be liable for harassment if the university (through its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy effects that could reasonably have been prevented.

The general principles expressed in these employment examples also apply in academic environments and program settings.