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Women treated differently: why the “reasonable woman” standard might not be reasonable

Elizabeth A. Hoffmann (Purdue University)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 1 April 2004

Abstract

Sexual harassment law addresses hostile environments by evaluating whether the workplace environment would be considered hostile by a “reasonable woman”. But who is a reasonable woman? Defendant‐employers may present one group of women employees as representative “reasonable” women and assert that any of these women’s co‐workers who have had different experiences with regard to sexual harassment are not “reasonable”. However, when male employees categorize various groups of female coworkers differently and, subsequently, treat them differently, the experiences of women from one of these groups would not be indicative of the experiences of women from an other group. This “selective sexual harassment” was present in the workplace I studied: while both groups of women were “reasonable”, they had very different experiences, only one of which might be confirmed by a court as the perspective of “reasonable” women. This article advocates for a version of the “reason ble victim” standard to facilitate a closer analysis of hostile environment sexual harassment suits.

Keywords

Citation

Hoffmann, E.A. (2004), "Women treated differently: why the “reasonable woman” standard might not be reasonable", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 23 No. 3/4/5, pp. 67-79. https://doi.org/10.1108/02610150410787738

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited