Sexual Harassment Guide

Guide to the University of Pennsylvania Sexual Harassment Policy

The University of Pennsylvania is committed to providing a working and learning environment free from sexual harassment. It therefore is the policy of the University that sexual harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This prohibition applies to all faculty, staff, students, other persons on University premises subject to University control, and to those engaged to further the interests of the University.

Management and supervisory personnel, at all levels, are responsible for taking reasonable and necessary action to prevent sexual harassment. The University will take seriously all sexual harassment complaints and respond in accordance with its Sexual Harassment Policy; take appropriate action to provide remedies when sexual harassment is discovered; impose appropriate sanctions upon individuals who have been found to be in violation of the University's policy; and, to the greatest extent possible, protect the privacy of those involved in sexual harassment complaints.

The University of Pennsylvania is also committed to the principles of free inquiry and free expression and to creating an environment that encourages the active exploration and exchange of ideas. The University's discrimination and harassment policies are not intended to impair this freedom, nor will they be permitted to do so. Prohibited discrimination and harassment, however, are neither legally protected expression nor the proper exercise of academic freedom.

Sexual Harassment Defined

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is often imposed upon a person in an unequal power relationship through the abuse of authority. Central to this concept is the use of implied reward or threat of deprivation that interferes with the academic or work effectiveness of the victim.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes harassment when:

  • Submission to, or rejection of, such conduct by an individual is made explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment or participation in academic activities;
  • Submission to, or rejection of, such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting such individual; or
  • Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or study environment.

Sexual harassment can take different forms; accordingly, the determination of what constitutes sexual harassment will vary according to the particular context and circumstances. Examples of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • Seeking sexual favors or relationships in return for the promise of a favorable grade or other academic opportunity;
  • Conditioning an employment related action (such as hiring, promotion, favorable work assignment, salary increase, or performance appraisal) on a sexual favor or relationship;
  • Intentional and undesired physical contact, sexually offensive conduct by individuals in positions of authority, or by co-workers, students, clients, contractors, or visitors that unreasonably interferes with the ability of a person to perform her/his academic or employment-related responsibilities.

Federal law generally has recognized two different grounds for claiming sexual harassment. Q uid pro quo harassment occurs when a person in authority, usually a supervisor or instructor, demands sexual favors in exchange for a job, promotion, grade, or other favorable treatment. In quid pro quo cases, the offense is directly linked to the individual's terms of employment or academic success, or forms the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting the individual.

A hostile work environment can exist when another person engages in unwelcome and inappropriate sexually based behavior severe or pervasive enough to render the workplace or academic atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive. Usually a pattern of this sort of behavior is required, but one incident can be enough, if sufficiently severe or outrageous.

Sexual harassment can be exhibited using three types of behaviors - verbal, non-verbal behaviors and gestures , and physical contact . Some types of verbal behavior that might constitute sexual harassment, especially when occurring in combination with offensive touching are:

  • Continuous and persistent sexual slurs or sexual innuendoes
  • Offensive and persistent risqué jokes or kidding about sex or gender-specific traits
  • Repeated unsolicited propositions for dates and/or sexual relations

Gestures or non-verbal behaviors might also be considered sexual harassment where they are persistent, severe, and offensive. Examples may include:

  • Sexual looks and lewd gestures, such as leering or ogling with suggestive overtones
  • Touching oneself sexually or persistent and unwelcome flirting
  • Displaying sexually suggestive pictures, calendars, or posters
  • Stalking

There is a range of unwanted physical contact, ranging from offensive behavior to criminal acts, that may also constitute sexual harassment. Some examples of unwanted physical contact include:

  • Unwelcome touching, rubbing oneself sexually against another person, pinching or stroking
  • Attempted or actual kissing or fondling, cornering or mauling
  • Physical assault
  • Coerced sexual activity
  • Attempted rape or rape

Sexual Harassment In Context

There is no typical harasser. A harasser can be male or female, young or old, and from any background. Harassers often have or seek to gain power over an individual or individuals and use that power in a negative way to help themselves feel "in control.” Harassers may look for "victims" who appear to be weaker and less likely to fight back. This might be because they fear retaliation in the form of loss of employment, economic loss, loss of benefits, loss of status, loss of promotional opportunities, impairment of academic success, or, in some cases, fear of physical or emotional harm. Such harassment can take place not only in supervisor/subordinate relationships, but also within work groups, classrooms, or student groups as well.

It should be stressed that while some behaviors may be offensive or unprofessional, they may not necessarily be considered sexual harassment. For example, general use of profanity and vulgar language may not be sexual harassment unless it is sexually oriented or overused to the point that a hostile work environment is created. In addition, isolated incidents may not be sufficient to create a hostile work environment. Frequent occurrences of minor offensive and unwelcome behavior, however, may be enough. Further, a single and egregious incident may rise to the level of sexual harassment depending upon the severity of the event.

If you feel you are experiencing sexual harassment, please contact The Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Suite 228, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106; or (215) 898-6993 (Voice).