HCBE Faculty Articles

A Kiss is but a Kiss”: Cultural Mores, Ethical Relativism, and Sexual Harassment Liability

Frank J. Cavico, Nova Southeastern University
Bahaudin G. Mujtaba, Nova Southeastern University
M. Petrescu
S. Muffler


Sexual harassment legal liability has been one of the momentous legal outcomes of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This seminal civil rights law in Title VII governing employment expressly prohibits discrimination based on sex (that is, gender). Two areas the courts have defined as sexual harassment have been quid pro quo (meaning “this for that”) and hostile working environment. Quid pro quo claims take the form of “broken promises”, “favors”, or “threats” promised by male superiors to female subordinates in exchange for sexual favors or relationships. Hostile environment means any hostile, offensive, or intimidating action or environmental factor that would lead to the inability of the employee to work in a non-threatening atmosphere. This article examines the second type of sexual harassment cases – hostile environment. This article specifically focuses on certain physical aspects of perceived sexual harassment conduct, such as kissing, hugging, and touching, which in some cultures can be deemed as culturally and ethically appropriate but nonetheless can be perceived as hostile, offensive, abusive, intimidating, and threatening under the law. The authors present examples of socially acceptable behaviors around the world, analyze the legal ramifications, ethical implications, and cultural nuances, and then provide appropriate recommendations for business managers.