Why Sexual Harassment Programs Backfire

by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev

The term sexual harassment spread through academic circles in the 1970s and began to gain traction as a legal concept in 1977. That year the feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon put forward the argument that workplace harassment constitutes sex discrimination, which is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal judges had previously rebuffed this idea, but by 1978 three courts had agreed with MacKinnon, and in 1986 the Supreme Court concurred.

The watershed moment for the concept came in 1991, during the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Clarence Thomas, when Anita Hill accused Thomas of having sexually harassed her while she was his assistant at ...

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