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2017 will be remembered as the year America recognized and started to deal with its sexual harassment epidemic. Every few days bring a new story of women reporting sexual harassment by powerful male bosses.
Unfortunately, studies dating to the 1970s show that harassment in the workplace is nothing new. Rather, the way our society is dealing with the problem of sexual harassment in America is finally starting to change.
The term ‘sexual harassment’ was first coined in 1976 when Redbook published results of a survey called What Men Do to Women on the Job. The survey revealed that many women suffered from unwelcome sexual advances at work. A 1981 survey found that 4 in 10 federal employees had experienced sexual harassment at work in the last two years. The survey was repeated every seven years, and a surprising result was that the rate of sexual harassment in the workplace remained almost unchanged, even as cultural and social norms evolved, and laws were passed prohibiting sexual harassment at work.
2017, however, appears to be the harbinger of a new era in how we deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. For the first time, women en masse are willing to report sexual harassment. And, finally, men who harass women are starting to suffer real consequences. The causes of this movement are hard to pin down: it could be the power of the anti-Trump movement that mobilized women to speak out; it could be the disturbing nature of the accusations against powerful men; or it could be that celebrity victims are speaking out and, for one of the first times, being heard.
The #metoo campaign on Facebook and Twitter powerfully illustrated the pervasive nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. And as more women come forward, it is easier for other women to find the courage to tell their story.
In the 1970s, federal courts struggled to understand why sexual harassment at work was a form of discrimination. By the early 1980s, courts had come to terms with sexual harassment, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) identified two kinds of sexual harassment: quid pro quo, and hostile work environment.
In the 1986 decision of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the US Supreme Court recognized these two forms of sexual harassment and found that both forms constitute unlawful workplace discrimination.
By 1991, our collective conscious was focused on the issue of sexual harassment as Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Hill’s legacy is a lexicon for talking about sexual harassment. The hearings also spurred the widespread adoption of anti-harassment policies and procedures, and an industry of sexual harassment training.
Today, few people in the American workplace can claim to be unaware of what sexual harassment is. Nonetheless, many powerful men publicly apologize claiming that, at the time, they did not realize their conduct was inappropriate.
Of course, state and federal laws are intended to protect workers from sexual harassment. Nonetheless, for change to occur more women must come forward and report violations of sexual harassment laws.
The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advance, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Sexual harassment can also include “offensive remarks about a person’s sex,” such as by making offensive comments about women in general. While “the law does not prohibit teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents which are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted)."
If you believe you were the victim of sexual harassment, it’s important that you come forward. Contact the employment discrimination lawyers at Brady & Associates today for answers to your questions, and for assistance with your claim for sexual harassment.