BOSTON -- Sexual harassment in the workplace violates state anti-discrimination laws, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in what is believed to be the first such ruling by a state court.
The state's highest court ruled 4-3 a clothing manufacturer violated a woman employee's rights by failing to correct a sexually harassing work environment.
The woman said a male supervisor had harassed her.
State officials said it was believed to be the first state Supreme Court ruling finding sexual harassment to be a form of discrimination.
The ruling was considerably tougher than a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that mandated sexual harassment complaints be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The order upheld a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ruling that ordered College-Town, a division of Interco Inc., to award Loretta D. Rizzi $17,733 in damages and back pay.
'A work environment pervaded by harassment or abuse, with the resulting intimidation, humiliation and stigmatization, poses a formidable barrier to the full participation of the individual in the workplace,' Chief Justice Edward Hennessey wrote for the majority.
'The Legislature sought to remove discriminatory barriers to full participation in the workforce,' Hennessey wrote. 'Supervisors who create a sexually harassing work environment present a serious barrier to that goal.'
Rizzi charged she was physically and verbally harassed by a male supervisor within weeks of starting her job in 1979.
Rizzi was later denied a promotion, and she filed a complaint with the state anti-discrimination panel, charging the promotion was denied in retaliation for her sexual-harassment complaint.
Company officials then chose to transfer Rizzi, failing to tell her the move was mandatory. She declined twice, leading to her firing three weeks later.