SCALIA,J: In late October 1991, Joseph Oncale was working for respondent Sundowner Offshore Services on a Chevron U.S.A., Inc., oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. He was employed as a roustabout on an eight-man crew which included respondents John Lyons, Danny Pippen, and Brandon Johnson. Lyons, the crane operator, and Pippen, the driller, had supervisory authority. On several occasions, Oncale was forcibly subjected to sex-related, humiliating actions against him by Lyons, Pippen, and Johnson in the presence of the rest of the crew. Pippen and Lyons also physically assaulted Oncale in a sexual manner, and Lyons threatened him with rape. Oncale's complaints to supervisory personnel produced no remedial action; in fact, the company's Safety Compliance Clerk, Valent Hohen, told Oncale that Lyons and Pippen “picked [on] him all the time too,” and called him a name suggesting homosexuality. Oncale eventually quit-asking that his pink slip reflect that he “voluntarily left due to sexual harassment and verbal abuse.” When asked at his deposition why he left Sundowner, Oncale stated “I felt that if I didn't leave my job, that I would be raped or forced to have sex.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides, in relevant part, that “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” We have held that this not only covers “terms” and “conditions” in the narrow contractual sense, but “evinces a congressional intent to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women in employment.” Title VII's prohibition of discrimination “because of … sex” protects men as well as women, and in the related context of racial discrimination in the workplace we have rejected any conclusive presumption that an employer will not discriminate against members of his own race. If our precedents leave any doubt on the question, we hold today that nothing in Title VII necessarily bars a claim of discrimination “because of … sex” merely because the plaintiff and the defendant (or the person charged with acting on behalf of the defendant} are of the same sex. . Courts have had little trouble with that principle m cases where an employee claims to have been passed over for a Job or promotion. But when the issue arises in the context of a “hostile environment ” sexual harass ment claim, the state and federal courts have taken a bewildering variety of stances. Some, like the Fifth Circuit in this case, have held that same-sex sexual harassment claims are never cognizable under Title VII. Other decisions say that such claims are actionable only if the plaintiff can prove that the harasser is homosexual (and thus presumably motivated by sexual desire). Still others suggest that workplace harassment that is sexual in content is always actionable, regardless of the harasser's sex, sexual orientation, or motivation. Courts and juries have found the inference of discrimination easy to draw in most male-female sexual harassment situations, because the challenged conduct typically involves explicit or implicit proposals of sexual activity; it is reasonable to assume those proposals would not have been made to someone of the same sex. The same chain of inference would be available to a plaintiff alleging same-sex harassment, if there were credible evidence that the harasser was homosexual. But harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire to support an inference of discrimination on the basis of sex. A trier of fact might reasonably find such discrimination, for example, if a female victim is harassed in such sex-specific and derogatory terms by another woman as to make it clear that the harasser is motivated by general hostility to the presence of women in the workplace. A same-sex harassment plaintiff may also, of course, offer direct comparative evidence about how the alleged harasser treated members of both sexes in a mixed-sex workplace. Whatever evidentiary route the plaintiff chooses to follow, he or she must always prove that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually constituted “discrimination. because of … sex.” And there is another requirement that prevents Title VII from expanding into a general civility code: As we emphasized in Meritor and Hams, the astute does not reach genuine but innocuous
differences m the ways men and women routinely interact with members of the same sex and of the opposite sex. The prohibition of harassment based on sex remorse neither asexuality nor androgyny in the workplace; it forbids only behavior so objectively offensive as to alter the “conditions” of the victim's employment. “Conduct that is not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environ _ Ent-an environment that a reasonable person would fad hostile or abusive-is beyond Title VII's purview.” We have always regarded that requirement as crucial, and as sufficient to ensure that courts and juries do not mistake ordinary socializing in the workplace-such as male-on-male horseplay or intersexual flirtation for discriminatory “conditions of employment.” We have emphasized, moreover, that the objective severity of harassment should be judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position, considering “all the circumstances.” In same-sex (as in all) harassment cases, that inquiry requires careful consideration of the social context in which behavior occurs and is experienced by its target. A professional football player's working environment is not severely or pervasively abusive, for example, if the CASE QUESTIONS coach smacks him on the buttocks as he heads onto the field-even if the same behavior would reasonably be experienced as abusive by the coach's secretary (male or female) back at the office. The real social impact of workplace behavior often depends on a constellation of surrounding circumstances, expectations, and relationships which are not fully captured by a simple recitation of the words used or the physical acts performed. Common sense, and an appropriate sensitivity to social context, will enable courts and juries to distinguish between simple teasing or rough housing among members of the same sex, and conduct which a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position would find severely hostile or abusive. Because we conclude that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
1. Before the decision in this case, what had the lower courts decided about whether same-sex harassment could violate Title VII?
2. Did the Court determine that the harassment of Oncale violated Title VII? Explain.
3. Does flirting violate Title VII? Explain.