Maryland Senate Bill Changing Definition of Sexual Harassment “Crosses Over” to House of Delegates

Monday, March 21, 2022, was “crossover day” in the Maryland General Assembly.  As a quick Maryland civics lesson, the Maryland General Assembly is comprised of two chambers, the Maryland State Senate and the Maryland House of Delegates.  Bills are proposed and debated in both chambers.  On crossover day, those bills that have passed by vote in one chamber are crossed over to the other chamber for further debate and vote.  Any bills that did not receive a majority vote in the chamber that it was proposed by crossover day are essentially dead in the water for the current legislative session.  Once a bill passes both chambers, it heads to the governor’s desk where if signed, becomes law.

One bill, SB0450 Harassment and Sexual Harassment – Definitions – Employment Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, has the potential to drastically reshape how sexual harassment claims are litigated in Maryland.  SB0450 passed in the Senate unopposed and is now in the House of Delegates’ Economic Matters Committee for debate.

If the bill becomes law, the definition of sexual harassment in the state will remove the “severe or pervasive” standard of conduct that a plaintiff must currently prove in order to prevail on a claim.  This change would lower the bar for would be plaintiffs, and makes sexual harassment claims against employers much more viable. 

Currently, the standard for proving a sexual harassment claim is a plaintiff must show they were subjected to behavior that was “severe or pervasive” enough to result in a hostile work environment, or otherwise adversely affected their employment.  Under the standard, simple teasing or fleeting remarks that are sexual in nature are not enough, and Maryland case law provides strong defenses to such claims.  The new standard would remove that requirement and instead make sexual harassment claims much easier to prove.

While this change is drastic, it is not groundbreaking.  New York State removed the severe or pervasive requirement in 2019.  And as our Bernadette Hunton previously blogged about, this reduced standard has been law in Montgomery County since 2021.  Virginia and California have also enacted similar laws.

The result of SB0450 is now in the hands of Maryland’s Delegates, and if passed, will still need Governor Hogan’s signature (or a successful veto override vote) before it becomes law.  Please stay tuned for future alerts on the status of SB0450.

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