Rehnquist on Civil Rights & Sexual Harassment:

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 1986

After being fired from her job at a Meritor Savings Bank, Michelle Vinson sued Vice President Sidney Taylor for sexual harassment. Vinson claimed that the harassment had created a "hostile work environment" and was covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She sought compensatory and punitive damages from Taylor and the bank, which argued that the Civil Rights Act only covered "tangible economic discrimination."

The Supreme Court ruled that the language of Title VII was not limited to "economic" or "tangible" discrimination, but was meant to encompass a broad range of factors, including the psychological aspects of harassment in the workplace.

In delivering the majority opinion, Rehnquist pointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's guidelines, which likewise indicated that harassment leading to non-economic injury was a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

United States v. Virginia, 1996

Rehnquist concurred with the opinion of the court in finding the male-only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to be unconstitutional. In a 7-1 decision, the court ruled that the creation of a women's academy, the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, was not an acceptable alternative, because it did not offer women the same rigorous military training, faculty, courses, facilities, financial opportunities or alumni connections that VMI provided for its male cadets.

In his concurrence, Rehnquist emphasized that the violation had occurred not simply because VMI had chosen to exclude women, but because the government of Virginia had failed to invest the same financial and pedagogical support into an equivalent institution for women:

"Had Virginia made a genuine effort to devote comparable public resources to a facility for women, and followed through on such a plan, it might well have avoided an equal protection violation. I do not believe the State was faced with the stark choice of either admitting women to VMI, on the one hand, or abandoning VMI and starting from scratch for both men and women, on the other."

Close Window