Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson

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Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 25, 1986
Decided June 19, 1986
Full case name Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Mechelle Vinson, et al.
Citations 477 U.S. 57 (more)
A claim of "hostile environment" sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is actionable under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan, Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell, Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
Majority Rehnquist, joined by Burger, White, Powell, Stevens, O'Connor
Concurrence Stevens
Concurrence Marshall, joined by Brennan, Blackmun, Stevens
Laws applied
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), is a US labor law case, where the United States Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case was the first of its kind to reach the Supreme Court and would redefine sexual harassment in the workplace.[1][2]

It established the standards for analyzing whether conduct was unlawful and when an employer would be liable. The court, for the first time, made sexual harassment an illegal form of discrimination.[2]


After she was fired from her job at a Meritor Savings Bank, Mechelle Vinson sued Sidney Taylor, the vice president of the bank. Vinson charged that Taylor had coerced her to have sexual relations with him and made demands for sexual favors at work. Vinson stated that she had intercourse with Taylor 40 or 50 times. Additionally, she testified that Taylor had touched her in public, exposed himself to her, and forcibly raped her multiple times.

She argued such harassment created a '"hostile working environment'" and a form of unlawful discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Vinson sought injunctive relief along with compensatory and punitive damages against Taylor and the bank.

The primary question presented was whether a hostile work environment a form of unlawful discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[3] or the Act was limited to tangible economic discrimination in the workplace.


The Court held that Title VII was "not limited to 'economic' or 'tangible' discrimination" and found that the intention of Congress was "'to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women' in employment...."

The Court pointed out that guidelines issued by the EEOC specified that sexual harassment leading to noneconomic injury was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. The Court recognized that plaintiffs could establish violations of the Act "by proving that discrimination based on sex has created a hostile or abusive work environment." Plaintiffs with hostile environment-styled claims must prove that the challenged conduct was severe or pervasive, created a hostile or abusive working environment, was unwelcome, and was based on the plaintiff’s gender

Catharine MacKinnon, author of Towards a Feminist Theory of the State, was co-counsel for the respondent and wrote the respondent's brief.


A review revealed that the determination of what constitutes "severe or pervasive conduct" is invariably based on an examination of the totality of circumstances. Moreover, in gauging the totality of circumstances, lower courts typically focus on some or all of the following four factors:

  1. the level of offensiveness of the unwelcome acts or words
  2. the frequency or pervasiveness of the offensive encounters
  3. the total length of time over which the encounters occurred
  4. the context in which the harassing conduct occurred. See for example Vance v. Southernbell Tel. & Tel. Co., 863 F.2d 1503 (11th Cir. 1989) (after the trial court granted a defense motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, on the ground that a noose hung over a black employee's desk on two different occasions was not enough, as a matter of law, to establish that the alleged racial harassment was a persistent, pervasive practice, the appellate court held that the determination of whether the defendant's conduct was sufficiently "severe and pervasive" did not turn solely on the number of incidents alleged by the plaintif but was to be based on a consideration of all the circumstances, including the number and severity of individual incidents of harassment)

See also[edit]



External links[edit]

  • Text of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia