Pink, White, and Blue: Class Assumptions in the Judicial Interpretations of Title VII Hostile Environment Sex Harassment

50 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2006 Last revised: 31 Aug 2010

See all articles by Rebecca K. Lee

Rebecca K. Lee

Thomas Jefferson School of Law


This article challenges the belief espoused by some federal courts that sex harassment law cannot help change workplace culture to promote equal opportunity for women, particularly in blue-collar environments where coarse language and behavior are expected to dominate. Rather than apply an equal level of protection under Title VII, these courts have created a different standard for blue-collar women, rendering it more difficult for them to bring a successful hostile work environment claim.

This article asserts that sex harassment law has indeed helped bring about a cultural shift in the customs of men and women at work and should continue to do so in order to advance Title VII's mandate to eliminate discriminatory behavior in the workplace. The class-dependent approach to sex harassment, however, deviates from this objective and wrongly has us believe that class context determines whether certain behavior is actionable. In addition to the exaggerated judicial depictions of blue-collar norms, the cases show that crude behavior thrives both on the shop-floor and in the office, revealing the fallacy of class differences in harassing behavior.

As this article emphasizes, gender hostility and stereotyping are entrenched in broad cultural norms, not in class-specific norms. The workplace historically has been a male-dominated space and accordingly has been shaped by masculine normative behavior. Sex harassment thus results from the gendered and sexualized culture of the workplace that crosses class lines. This article aims to reconnect the problem of sex harassment to masculine practices in the work setting (regardless of whether the setting is blue-collar or white-collar) to support an accurate and effective conception of sex harassment law.

Suggested Citation

Lee, Rebecca K., Pink, White, and Blue: Class Assumptions in the Judicial Interpretations of Title VII Hostile Environment Sex Harassment. Brooklyn Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 3, p. 677, 2005; TJSL Legal Studies Research Paper No. 876362. Available at SSRN:

Rebecca K. Lee (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

1155 Island Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4268 (Phone)

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