Criminal charges have been filed against a former Austin, Texas fire lieutenant who allegedly placed a hidden camera in the women's locker room at his fire station. The officer retired following the incident, but has now been charged criminally with invasive visual recording, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and $10,000 in fines.
Source: Austin American-Statesman, November 17, 2017
Sexual Harassment: The Reality
With all the recent news and talk about sexual harassment, there is still much confusion about the reality of how the law applies.
In recent weeks, a number of high profile entertainment, political, and media figures have been accused of harassing behavior, and some of them have either been fired or have voluntarily left their positions. These highly publicized outcomes might cause someone to believe that sexual harassment claims always lead to negative outcomes for the accused perpetrator, and that people are likely to report harassment when it occurs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, although up to 50% of working women say that they have experienced harassment, only 5-15% of women ever report it. Of legal cases actually filed, only 3-6% ever make it to court. Of the rest, half are settled out of court, and around 40% are dismissed pre-trial. The numbers are even lower for men who experience harassment.
For behavior to meet the legal standard of being harassment, it must be "severe or pervasive" and interpretation of this definition varies widely depending on the court and the judge. For example, in one case a construction worker had a supervisor who talked about raping the plaintiff and initiated unwanted physical contact more than two dozen times over a period of ten days. The judge dismissed the case, saying that ten days was too brief a period of time to qualify as "pervasive" behavior. On the other hand, when behavior occurs over an extended period of time, a court may dismiss the case on the basis of the behavior being too sporadic to be pervasive.
In addition, case law can create precedent that raises the bar for harassment claims. For example, a 2007 Supreme Court case established the standard that plaintiffs must prove that harassment was intentional for it to be legally actionable.
Employers can and often do have higher standards for conduct than the minimum required by law. For this reason, an employee could be disciplined even if the claim of harassment is legally dismissed. However, employers can also put in place complicated complaint systems that discourage anyone from initiating a report of harassment.
The reality of harassment law for the average worker is quite different from what the headline news would have us believe.
Source: npr.org, November 28, 2017
© Linda F. Willing, 2017