Sexual Harassment in the Workplace by Mary L Boland Book Summary
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, What You Need to Know – and What You Can Do by Mary L. Boland
The primary U.S. law regarding sexual conduct in the workplace, which Congress enacted in 1964, has had a profound impact on American society and business. Attorney Mary L. Boland’s comprehensive handbook tells employers and employees how to define and prevent this problem and explains what to do if you are a victim. She provides the right level of detail for nonlawyers, pointing out the kinds of issues, conditions and events that can trigger a complaint. The book is readable and clearly organized, with sections that explain employer responsibilities, legal resources and remedies – from filing a lawsuit to arbitration and mediation. Four appendices and a glossary add valuable information. getAbstract.com highly recommends this lucid, practical book to human resource managers, executives, small business owners and employees at every level, particularly victims of sexual harassment.
- In a 1992 Working Woman magazine survey, 60% of the respondents said they had been sexually harassed.
- Harassment is common among women in male-dominated fields such as firefighting, the military and law enforcement.
- The private sector spends $1 billion per year on harassment issues.
- In 1999, courts awarded more than $150 million to victims of sexual harassment.
- One study found that in nonprofessional work environments, half of sexual harassment incidents also included a physical act.
- Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws sexual harassment.
- Every state except Georgia and Mississippi has laws against sexual harassment.
- In quid pro quo harassment, an employer requires sexual favors in exchange for hiring or promotion.
- In a hostile work environment, workers are the targets of unsolicited sexual advances that inhibit their ability to perform their duties.
- In workplaces where profanity is common, men often regard women as sexual objects.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Book Summary
“An Immense Problem”
Sexual harassment in the workplace is an “immense problem” for thousands of men and women, who annually report incidents to federal and state agencies, as well as to their employers. The laws against sexual harassment, which state that no one should be the target of “unwelcome” sexual conduct or “pressure” in the workplace, apply to both sexes, since both can be either perpetrators or victims.
“All employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Women file most sexual harassment complaints. In the 1970s, Redbook magazine found that 90% of the 9,000 women who answered a questionnaire had encountered sexual harassment at work. Another Redbook study found that 81% of women on a California naval base and in a nearby town said they had been harassed. A Cornell University study found that 70% of the respondents reported being sexually harassed. More recently, a 1992 study in Working Woman magazine found that 60% of the 9,000 respondents said they had been sexually harassed.
“The laws say that no one should have to work in a locker-room atmosphere, and no one has the right to sexually bully another person at work.”
Harassment has an economic impact, leading to job problems and lawsuits against private corporations and the U.S. government. During a two-year period in the mid-1990s, the federal government spent more than $300 million defending itself against complaints, while the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the private sector spends $1 billion per year on harassment issues. These estimates exclude the legal judgments and out-of-court amounts paid to settle sexual harassment claims. In 1999, the courts awarded more than $150 million to harassment victims.
A Form of Discrimination
Any employee at any level can commit sexual harassment. However, because of the nature of supervisors’ responsibilities, you must be especially aware of sexual harassment policies if you manage employees, particularly if you control their working conditions and promotional opportunities.
“Stereotypical views of women pose serious risks for women in a workplace.”
Employees who feel they have been victimized should report harassment immediately, knowing that the law forbids employers to retaliate against workers who complain. The stress of harassment can be very damaging. One study found that 96% of harassment victims suffered emotional complications, and one-third experienced stress-related physical problems. Women who are harassed may become traumatized and fear a violent attack. According to the American Psychiatric Association, some victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Supervisors can engage in more forms of sexual harassment because of the authority (they are) given, so their acts are considered the acts of the company or employer.”
Employers should act promptly to investigate harassment complaints. If your company ends up in court, it will need to prove that its managers exercised “due care” to prevent problems and to correct those they discovered.
Sexual harassment occurs in all segments of the labor market, public and private, and in all industries. However, complaints are more frequent in professions where women are a minority, including among doctors and investment bankers. Many documented cases of sexual harassment have occurred in predominantly male work environments, such as law enforcement, firefighting and the military. In such workplaces, male workers may stigmatize or start rumors about a woman who makes a mistake, eventually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that she cannot perform a “man’s job.” Harassment is often intertwined with stereotypes such as the idea that women work in order to find husbands or that they are paid more than they are worth.
Harassment in Law Enforcement and the Military
In 1995, the Los Angeles Police Department settled a harassment complaint brought by a policewoman who was raped. At the same time, it was working to settle more than two dozen additional sexually related complaints. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, nine female police officers sued the city, charging that more than 20 male officers had harassed them between 1996 and 2000. At the time, only 50 of Grand Rapid’s 400 police officers were women. Nationally, by 2001 about 13% of all police were women, yet despite their increasing numbers, they continued to report numerous cases of harassment.
“Favoritism arises when a supervisor promotes his girlfriend to a position you were also qualified for.”
In 1996, a national survey of women in the military found that about half of all military women said they had been sexually harassed. At that time, many women in Army circles reported being raped. The hotline that the Army created to address the problem received about 6,600 complaints in the first two months.
“High levels of sexual harassment exist when there is a low number of women in the workplace.”
One famous example of sexual harassment occurred in 1991 during the Tailhook military convention, when Navy officers publicly groped a female helicopter pilot. She sued and won a $5 million judgment in a civil lawsuit. The Navy eventually found that 117 officers had been involved in incidents at the convention and disciplined more than 70 of them.
“The nature of sexual harassment is necessarily disturbing and distressing, but in preparing to make your report, you must carefully consider the facts that you will include.”
A 2004 Department of Defense survey found that one in seven female trainees at U.S. military academies had been assaulted, although the women reported only one-third of the assaults.
Various cultural factors in the workplace can encourage sexual harassment:
- Profanity – In workplaces where swearing is common, women are three times more likely to be regarded as objects of sexual attention.
- Prejudice – Sexual harassment is often an expression of prejudice. People tend to associate and socialize with people who resemble them, and often these preferences play a role in hiring and promotions: men tend to hire and promote other men. When these social relations take precedence over other job qualifications, the courts consider them a form of “unlawful discrimination.”
- Resentment – Men may feel threatened by having women in the workplace, even though women earn about 75 cents for each dollar men earn. When a woman is promoted, she earns less: 69 cents for each dollar a man earns in the same position.
The Impact of Title VII
Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws sexual harassment. Although the term “sexual discrimination” does not appear in Title VII, it is covered under other provisions that protect against employment discrimination. Fair employment practice acts and antidiscrimination laws supplement Title VII at the state level. Victims of discrimination can also seek relief in the civil courts.
“An informal settlement works best when the harassment is relatively minor and the parties desire to continue to work together.”
When Title VII was first passed, some courts treated sexual harassment complaints as “personal relationship” problems and did not acknowledge that they had legal standing. By 1976, though, many courts had begun to consider work-related sexual harassment to be a form of discrimination. Today, all states except Georgia and Mississippi have laws against sexual harassment. These laws differ in terms of coverage, penalties, responsible persons, damages, and caps on compensatory and punitive damages. Victims can file Title VII complaints with the state, federal or local department that has jurisdiction over sexual harassment investigations. In addition, some cities and municipalities have laws governing harassment complaints.
“A Continuum of Harm”
Each case of sexual harassment is unique, but the key variables are usually the severity of the action, who did it and how it harmed the victim. Since offensive conduct manifests in many forms and degrees, the nature and frequency of the act are crucial. The more severe or gross the action, the fewer times it has to happen before it constitutes legal harassment. Some obnoxious behaviors are not sufficient by themselves to constitute a legal basis for a claim. However, harassment may include sexual joking; using sexist words, such as “doll,” “babe” or “honey;” brushing against a person or even staring. Other forms of harassing behavior include asking for sex, sexual coercion and actual physical assault. One study found that 50% of females who were harassed in nonprofessional work environments also became the victims of physical acts.
“A hostile work environment case is established when the environment becomes so intimidating or offensive that it changes the conditions of the job.”
Sexual harassment cases fall into two main categories:
- Quid pro quo – In such cases, the victim receives unsolicited sexual advances to which he or she must acquiesce to keep a job or receive a promotion.
- Hostile work environment – These cases are more difficult to prove than quid-pro-quo cases, since the criteria are vague. The courts have found that work enviroments can be treated as “intimidating, hostile or offensive” if workers there receive unsolicited advances that negatively affect their work. One court case found that off-color photos and jokes contributed to a “hostile working environment” that elevated sexual tensions.
The Issues in Harassment Cases
Recently, the number of both types of cases has increased. The courts have taken the following factors into consideration in their rulings:
- “Unwelcome” conduct – Two people who work together may engage in voluntary romantic behavior. However, unwelcome statements or advances may be harassing or discriminatory.
- “Changing conditions” at work – The Supreme Court has ruled that a single comment or flirtatious act does not constitute a hostile work environment. But if many people repeat the same comment, that eventually can constitute a hostile environment.
- Special considerations – If a manager offers an employee a promotion on the condition that the employee grants him or her sexual favors, it is harassment.
- Same-sex harassment – In 1998, a male oil rig worker experienced unwanted advances from a male co-worker and went to court charging sexual harassment. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that laws against sexual harassment are also applicable to same-gender situations.
- Harassment outside of work – When employees are on work-related business, such as traveling or attending meetings, any offensive conduct may become part of a business-related claim.
To prevent sexual harassment, make sure your company has a formal sexual harassment policy that clearly defines sexual harassment, provides examples of violations, guarantees confidentiality, forbids retaliation, explains legal avenues of recourse, spells out disciplinary actions and establishes follow-up procedures. Make it clear that your organization is committed to resolving all harassment complaints quickly, and maintain detailed records about all investigations and their resolutions, in case the complaint ends up in court.
Restoring Employee Confidence
Remedies for sexual harassment may include issuing back pay; rehiring the employee into his or her old position with the same seniority; granting a promotion; issuing “front pay,” or a salary advance; and injunctive relief, which can take the form of employee education or training. Title VII allows harassment plaintiffs who win against their employers to recover court costs and fees for lawyers and expert witnesses.
“Sexual harassment can cause serious harm to its victims, their families and other co-workers.”
Victims are entitled to compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, and to punitive damages. In 1991, Congress capped the amount of punitive and compensatory damages that employers must pay. Limits are based on the number of employees. For instance, the liability of companies with 501 or more employees is limited to $300,000. Liability payments from firms with 15 to 100 employees are capped at $50,000.
“Whatever the job environment, workers have a right not to be sexually harassed.”
Mediation and arbitration are other ways to resolve harassment complaints. “Alternative dispute resolution” is becoming more popular as legal costs increase. Victims who want to maintain their relationships with their employers should consider mediation. Arbitration tends to favor the employer, but it is cheaper than filing a lawsuit.
About the Author
Mary L. Boland has authored legislation protecting victims and co-chairs the victim’s committees of both the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association and the Prosecutor’s Bar Association of Illinois. She has served on the Task Force on Gender Bias in the Illinois Courts and on the City of Chicago Advisory Council on Women. A full-time prosecutor, she has taught at Governor’s State University, Roosevelt University and Loyola Law School.