Harassment and Sexual Harassment

Harassment based on an individual's membership in a protected class is a form of prohibited discrimination under federal and Montana law and University policy. Protected classes include race, color, religion, national origin, creed, service in the uniformed services (as defined in state and federal law), veteran status, sex, age, political ideas, marital or family status, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, genetic information, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

To be considered unlawful harassment, conduct must occur that creates a hostile work or educational environment, and must be directed at an individual because of his or her membership in a protected class of people. A hostile environment is created when conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual's work or academic performance or participation in UM activities, or when a reasonable person would find the conduct sufficiently offensive. Conduct constituting harassment includes bullying, humiliating, intimidating, or other types of abusive behavior designed to make a person feel degraded because of their membership in a protected class. Stalking and hazing may also constitute harassment. Harassing conduct may be in the form of verbal comments, aggressive actions, or repeated gestures. The conduct may be communicated electronically, in person, or by other means. However, constitutionally protected expression is not considered harassment under this policy. Generally, a few isolated incidents do not rise to the level of an unlawful hostile work or educational environment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a particular form of harassment and is strictly prohibited. This type of harassment can occur by conduct that creates a hostile work environment or when tangible benefits are directly tied to an individual's submission to or rejection of unwelcome sexual conduct. Conduct creating a hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment includes subjecting an individual to unwelcome sexual comments, unwelcome physical contact, or offensive sexual materials as a regular part of the work or educational environment. Whether the conduct amounts to sexual harassment is determined from the perspective of an objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation.

Sexual harassment also occurs when tangible benefits are directly tied to an individual's submission to or rejection of unwelcome sexual conduct. This type of sexual harassment is sometimes referred to as "quid-pro-quo" and can be either express or implied. It only occurs in supervisor/employee or professor/student relationships; e.g., threatening to fire someone for failure to engage in sexual relations, or promising a better grade in exchange for sexual favors.

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The University's goal and obligation is to end harassing behavior before it rises to the level of breaking the law. The University will take immediate action to end harassing behavior, including appropriate disciplinary action, when instances of harassment are identified and confirmed. Supervisors who ignore or fail to report incidents of harassment will also be subject to discipline.  Retaliation against persons complaining about harassment or those who provide information about a claim of harassment also violates laws prohibiting discrimination and will lead to disciplinary action against offenders. Individuals should report harassment to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in accordance with the Discrimination Grievance Procedure.

The University of Montana Student Advocacy Resource Center (SARC) provides free and confidential support services to University students who have experienced sexual harassment or other forms of sexual violence. Students can locate SARC in the Curry Health Center, Room 108. SARC's 24-hour free and confidential support line is 406-243-6559.

Tips for Targets of Sexual Harassment

Being the target of sexually harassing behavior may make you feel embarrassed, angry, isolated, confused, or helpless. When inappropriate behavior becomes routine, it can affect your quality of life. If you feel you are a victim of sexual harassment, you can take the following steps:

  • Document the incidents. Write down the date, time, and location, exactly what happened and what was said, and any witnesses. Include any attempts you made to make it clear the behavior was unwelcome, and include how the behavior made you feel.
  • Tell the harasser that their behavior or comments are unwelcome and that you want them to stop.
  • Write a letter or email to the harasser identifying their inappropriate behavior and informing them that if that behavior doesn't stop, you will file a formal grievance against them.
  • Schedule an appointment with the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action to talk about the behavior you are experiencing. EO/AA can handle your complaint informally and provide you with resources on how to deal with the situation, or you may choose to file a formal grievance. EO/AA will guide you through the process.

Could I be a Sexual Harasser?

Persons accused of sexual harassment are often surprised to learn that someone has viewed their behavior or comments as offensive. If you have been accused of sexual harassment or worry that you may be accused of sexual harassment, you may want to review your behavior by considering the following points:

  • Do not assume that colleagues, peers, employees, or students are flattered by comments about their appearance, requests to go on a date, or questions about their relationships.
  • Do not assume that colleagues, peers, employees, or students enjoy being touched (including hugs, massages, playful patting).
  • Do not assume that colleagues, peers, employees, or students enjoy sexually oriented comments, jokes, or stories.
  • Do not assume that others will tell you they are offended or feel harassed by what you say and do, especially if you are in a position of power over them.
  • Do not assume that your colleagues, peers, employees, or students enjoy emails or internet sites that contain sexual jokes or innuendoes.  Creating or forwarding the email can be just as offensive as if you had uttered the words yourself.
  • Consider whether you base your behavior (i.e., comments, decisions) on stereotypes of others. Review your behavior and make sure it is sex-neutral and free of bias.
  • Consider the impact that you could have on others' attitudes toward their work, education, and self-esteem.
  • Consider how others respond to what you say and do.
  • Consider whether differences in culture, religion, or background might make someone uncomfortable with your actions.
  • Consider and understand that unwelcome sexual humor and innuendoes may violate the University’s sexual harassment policy.
  • If you have any doubts as to your behavior, ask yourself:

• whether you would like someone to do the same to your wife/husband/partner, daughter/son, mother/father, grandmother/grandfather, or another considered close to you;

• whether you would like to see a picture of yourself and a description of the behavior on the front page of the newspaper.

If you answer "NO" to either of these questions, odds are you should refrain from the behavior.

  • Ask yourself many of these same questions with respect to behavior related to race, color, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, sex, marital status, disability, or status as a U.S. veteran.
  • Remember that it is not the intent behind the behavior that matters, but rather the impact the behavior has on the person who is offended by the behavior.

If you have questions about what behaviors may constitute sexual harassment, please contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action at 243-5710 or eoaa@umontana.edu.