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Abstract

The claim of sexual harassment is nearly twenty years old. From the first cases brought in the mid-1970s to the recurring headline-making controversies of the present-Hill/Thomas, Tailhook, Packwood -sexual harassment claims have generated heated debate about the validity of women's interpretations of their experiences and the credibility of women's accounts of injury. Like most legal claims, the courts have repeatedly been called upon to refine the cause of action, to resolve ambiguities in the definition of harassment and uncertainties about the limits of the law. Recently in Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., a unanimous United States Supreme Court reinforced the right of sexual harassment plaintiffs to bring suits not only for economic injury, but also for noneconomic injury stemming from sexually hostile or abusive working environments. The Court also clarified the elements of the abusive work environment claim, ending a divisive split in the circuits. However, I doubt whether the new Supreme Court precedent will lessen the intensity with which sexual harassment controversies are fought. Even when people agree upon basic principles, there can be sharp disagreement in concrete cases-disagreement about who is telling the truth, disagreement about who deserves to be sanctioned, and disagreement about the appropriate role of the employer in preventing or rectifying the harassment.

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