Low Blows

After a year in Boulder, Faragher moved to Denver in 1994, taking a job with Vitek and Doniger, a firm that provides public defenders to the courts. And while there wasn't much call for sexual-harassment expertise in Denver County Court, such cases were becoming increasingly common on the district and federal level--after the Clarence Thomas hearings increased awareness of sexual-harassment cases, and after changes allowing punitive damages made such cases more attractive. In 1991, the EEOC considered just 6,883 sexual-harassment cases; by 1998, the number had jumped to over 16,000.

But Faragher didn't think much about hers--until the day the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and then, last June 26, finally came down with its decision. In Faragher's favor.

It was not enough that the City of Boca Raton had an anti-harassment policy. It had a duty to enforce that policy--and city officials had failed to both disseminate the policy and inform employees of complaint procedure, much less track the supervisors' behavior.

In making its ruling, the Supreme Court reinstated the damages Faragher was initially awarded.

"I'm still waiting on my dollar," Faragher says. "The law-school diploma can come down, but that dollar stays up on the wall."

Despite her starring role in a precedent-setting sexual-harassment case--she's lecturing on it this week in Miami--Faragher didn't really follow the country's most notorious sexual-harassment case: Paula Jones's suit against Clinton. "I understand it was one incident, when ours was kind of a continual, day-in, day-out harassment," she says. "But I understand that if one incident was egregious enough, it constitutes sexual harassment."

And if that incident is egregious enough, a woman should report it. After that, she adds, "if you think you've been wronged and you think they're not taking appropriate action, file a suit."

The decision in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton wasn't the only sex-harassment case the Supreme Court decided last June 26. In its ruling for Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, it determined that harassment did not have to result in tangible harm in order to be actionable. Both decisions, particularly Ellerth, improved the long-term chances for Jones's suit, then under appeal. (Clarence Thomas offered a dissent from both decisions.)

Clinton, of course, wound up settling with Jones.
Faragher got her day in court. "It's really important--following through on what you believe in," says Faragher, who's now looking for a job in employment law, where she can put her experience to good use. "It's something that hangs over your head for years. But look at my case--boy, was it worth it.

"It will probably be the only time I'll ever be before the Supreme Court.

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