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Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act may have outlawed sex discrimination, but it did not address the sexual harassment of women in the workplace - behavior that courts did not deem illegal until well into the era of the modern civil rights and women's movements. Mechelle Vinson's lawsuit against her employer, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986), changed all of that.
Adopting the legal theory pioneered by feminist Catharine MacKinnon that sexual harassment was indeed discriminatory, the Supreme Court's opinion, authored by one of the most conservative justices, brought the problem of sexual harassment into the spotlight and placed power relations between men and women at work squarely on the public agenda.
Plaintiff Vinson claimed that she had submitted to the unwanted sexual advances of her supervisor in order to hold onto her job. Although her supervisor denied her charges and the bank he worked for disavowed any knowledge of misbehavior, her suit finally reached the Supreme Court after six years of litigation, where a unanimous Court determined that the creation of a ""hostile work environment"" through sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination.