There are five different categories of sexual harassment. Each category requiring specific proofs:
Quid Pro Quo
This type of sexual harassment is usually the most clear cut to prove. One incident alone can prove quid pro quo sexual harassment. A supervisor, makes unwelcome advances of a sexual nature and either states or implies that the woman must submit if she wants to keep her job, receive a raise, receive a promotion or a specific job assignment. In general, only supervisors can engage in this type of harassment, since it requires the authority to grant a job favor in return for the unwelcome advance or request.
Thanks to recent Supreme Court rulings (Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 141 L.Ed.2d 633, 118 S.Ct.1998), it is no longer necessary to prove that you were materially harmed by your supervisor's threats, harassment and acts of coercion. It is enough that the harassment occurred at all, whether or not the stated or implied threats were carried out.
The employer is generally liable for quid pro quo harassment by a supervisor whether the employer knew about the situation or not (Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 141 L.Ed.2d 662, 118 S.Ct. 1998). Your supervisor is considered an agent of the corporation, and the corporation is vicariously liable for his actions.
It may not be initially obvious to you that a quid pro quo situation existed, but if you can tie any adverse job action to your overt or subtle rejection of a supervisor, that is quid pro quo.
Unwelcome sexual conduct can make the working environment "hostile" to women in general, and/or you, in particular. An environment is considered hostile when unwelcome sexual conduct has the effect of poisoning the working environment. The central inquiry is whether the conduct "unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance" or creates "an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment." The standard for evaluating a hostile environment is from the perspective of a "reasonable person". Title VII specifically states that it does not serve "as a vehicle for vindicating the petty slights suffered by the hypersensitive."
You don't have to suffer an adverse job action to bring a charge of sexual harassment, hostile environment. You do need to show that the environment was sexually hostile with sexually explicit jokes, abusive language, sexual innuendoes, overt sexual conduct, pinups and any other evidence of degradation of women. This type of harassment can be committed by coworkers or supervisors because it does not require any authority to create such an environment.
Hostile environment is much more difficult to prove than quid pro quo. In quid pro quo, one act is sufficient to bring a charge of sexual harassment. Not so in hostile environment. Courts usually require that the incidents of harassment are severe, pervasive and harmful to the victim's emotional well being. A hostile environment claim generally requires a showing of a pattern of offensive conduct. The one exception to the rule is when a woman is intentionally touched in a sexual way by her employer or another employee, and the company takes no action against the individual.
In this type of harassment, employees who provide sexual favors to their employer receive benefits in the form of raises, promotions, etc., which you are denied because you refused sexual advances. Not all jurisdictions recognize this form of sexual harassment. In those that do, you will need to show that you were qualified, and deserved the raise, assignment or promotion which was denied. Comparison of your qualifications to those of the favored individual/s will be key.
Harassment by Non-Employees
Employers can be held responsible for sexual harassment by people outside of the company, such as contractors, vendors, etc. The employer must have some control over the outside workers, yet permitted the harassment, e.g. not firing the offensive contractor.
Same Sex Harassment
Recent high court rulings have made it illegal for a woman to harass another woman, or a man to harass another man.
Although most cases of sexual harassment are women being harassed by men, men can also bring charges of sexual harassment against women.
Sometimes the sexual harassment is so severe that a woman is actually forced to quit her job. If the situation was intolerable, and the woman was justified in quitting due to sexual harassment, the discharge is considered the same as a legal firing.