The Woman Who Fought to Make Sexual Harassment Illegal 40 Years Ago

Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Debra Katz was quoted in a Washingtonian article, “#HerToo: 40 Years Ago This Woman Helped Make Sexual Harassment Illegal.” The piece revisits the case of Sandra Bundy, a former corrections department employee, who endured years of severe sexual harassment from her supervisors before taking the corrections department to court, and winning.

Bundy was a single mother who had held various low-paying jobs before landing a stable job at the D.C. Department of Corrections, where she earned enough to quit her second job. But soon, she encountered a number of men – all supervisors – who continually harassed her and propositioned her for sex. Bundy pursued internal options to address the problem, but encountered dismissiveness – and in some cases further harassment – from those to whom she complained.  After exhausting these options and meeting with the EEOC, Bundy knew her best option was to find a lawyer.

Robert Adler, the attorney Bundy hired, knew that the chances of victory were slim. While there was some precedent for women proving in court that sexual harassment is a violation of the Civil Rights Act, those women, Diane Williams and Paulette Barnes, had lost their jobs. And while Bundy had been denied a promotion, Judge George Hart ruled that this decision was based solely on work performance, and thus was not discriminatory.

Adler and Bundy appealed to the more progressive D.C. Circuit Court. The appellate panel reversed the lower court’s decision. The court noted that racial and ethnic discrimination that “poisoned the atmosphere of employment” was already deemed illegal, and the same should be true for discrimination based on sex.

Five years later, the Supreme Court upheld the legal principles of Bundy in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, which established once and for all that sexual harassment is an illegal form of sex discrimination. Ms. Katz observed that Bundy “paved the way” for this landmark decision.

In this new era of #MeToo, Bundy’s impact is being felt more than ever.

Read the full article here.