Posts Tagged ‘sexual harassment’
Monday, March 20th, 2017
Asking female applicants whether they were married and planned to have children in a job interview. Telling female employees how to dress (and show more skin). Overtly and concretely penalizing female employees for taking maternity leave. Promoting low-performing men over the highest-performing women. Asking women employees to have sex with their boss to advance their careers. Penalizing female employees for not taking part in alcohol-fueled corporate partying when they were pregnant or breastfeeding. Bragging about how many female subordinates a male executive had had sex with.
This sounds like the bad old days but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Just a few years ago, current and former female sales representatives at a medical cosmetics company, Medicis Pharmaceutical (now owned by Valeant Pharmaceuticals), banded together to bring a class action against their employer for regularly doing all of these things, and more, including unequal pay and retaliation for reporting discrimination and harassment. Each of the approximately one hundred women in the class who filed claims received an average of $44,000 in back pay and damages, and the attorney’s fees were not taken out of that compensation. That’s not small change.
But there’s more. In theory, an individual woman could have brought the case and gotten back pay and damages. What an individual woman could almost certainly not have done was force Medicis to change its practices – Medicis could have paid her money and washed its hands. Here, though, the class was able to use its leverage to get Medicis to agree to, among other things, create anti-discrimination policies and training; establish systems for investigating reports of discrimination and harassment; be transparent about how it set and measured sales goals; eliminate penalties for taking parental leave; and establish policies about alcohol at corporate events and intra-office romantic and sexual relationships. In other words, it took a class action to ensure that Medicis follows the law not just with regard to the women who sued, but with regard to all the women who come after.
In the minefield of workplace discrimination and harassment, there’s another advantage to class actions, too. One woman bringing these types of claims may (unfortunately and wrongly) be easily dismissed as too sensitive, as not qualified for the promotion she sought, or as subject to one-off comments from a single troublesome executive. She may also be retaliated against for speaking out – as many of the women in this suit were. But where woman after woman after woman tells the same story, she cannot be so easily dismissed.
And yet Congress is on the verge of wiping away the ability for women to band together and challenge such discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Last week, the House GOP narrowly approved the so-called “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.” The bill would drastically roll back the ability to bring class action lawsuits like the one against Medicis. Fourteen Republicans opposed the bill, along with every single Democrat in the House, but that wasn’t enough to defeat it. After being pushed through the House Judiciary Committee – without a hearing, and with a nighttime vote – the bill now makes its way to the Senate, where a record 21 female Senators will be among those deciding its ultimate fate. While the Senate has not yet scheduled any action on the issue, civil rights groups and their allies are mobilizing to ensure the House proposal never becomes law.
There are a lot of big, important and downright frightening ideas making the rounds on Capitol Hill these days, from taking away Americans’ health insurance to eliminating Meals on Wheels and turning the Environmental Protection Agency over to oil and gas lobbyists. But it’s imperative that voters insist their Senators give proper attention to this all-out assault on the courts. Unless they do so, a key tool in battling discrimination could quickly disappear. That threat is too real, too serious and has too many dire consequences for too many Americans for Senators to do anything other than give it the deliberative attention – and debate – that it deserves.
This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on March 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FPBland.
Leah Nicholls joined Public Justice’s D.C. office in September 2012 as the Kazan-Budd Attorney. She was previously senior staff attorney for civil rights and general public interest at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. Leah had also been a teaching fellow and adjunct law professor at the Law Center.
Wednesday, February 15th, 2017
The fight against President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, fast food CEO Andy Puzder, is shaping up to be as intense as opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for education secretary. Puzder’s long delayed confirmation hearing is set for Thursday, and a few Republican senators are already signaling they may vote against him.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lisa Murskowski (R-AK), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are withholding their support of his nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made it clear through a 28-page letter with 83 questions for Puzder that she will ensure his confirmation process will be a knock-down, drag-out fight. Other prominent Democrats have spoken out against his record as an employer, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on President Trump to withdraw Puzder’s nomination.
DeVos ultimately squeaked through a Senate floor debate, but only after an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. For weeks before that vote, thousands of people flooded Senate offices with calls against her nomination, and teachers and their allies protested.
Two Republican senators, Sen. Collins and Sen. Murkowski, who now represent half of the Republican senators withholding support for Puzder, voted against her confirmation. Now that twice as many Republicans have already voiced apprehension regarding Puzder, his chances of being confirmed appear even lower.
In her letter, Warren mentioned his “record of prolific labor law abuses and discrimination suits” and “a sneering contempt for the workers in your stores, and a vehement opposition to the laws you will be charged with enforcing.”
Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns fast food restaurants such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has been the subject of class action lawsuits over the denial of overtime pay as well as lawsuits accusing the company of discrimination. Workers also allege that they were fired for protesting as part of the Fight for 15 campaign.
ROC United, a restaurant employee advocacy group, released a report last month showing that many of the over 500 workers surveyed experienced sexual harassment and unsafe conditions working at CKE restaurants. Sixty-six percent of female CKE employees said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, compared to 40 percent of women who reported such incidents across the entire industry. Puzder has also opposed a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Puzder’s nomination has also been plagued with reports of domestic abuse against his first wife, Lisa Fierstein. On Tuesday, a Missouri judge will rule on whether to unseal records from Puzder’s 1987 divorce, just two days before the nominee’s confirmation hearing. Republican and Democratic senators have also received a tape from the Oprah Winfrey Network that shows a 1990 episode titled, “High-Class Battered Women,” in which Fierstein appeared to discuss the alleged domestic abuse. Fierstein has since retracted the domestic abuse allegations.
Collins has seen the tape, according to Bloomberg, and said, “I am reviewing the other information that has come to light and I’m sure all of this has been explored thoroughly.”
Like the teachers unions that opposed DeVos, which often work with the Fight for $15 campaign, labor groups also have the power to galvanize opposition to Puzder. Last Thursday, thousands of workers protested against his nomination across the U.S., a spokesman for the Fight for 15 campaign told The New York Times. Some of the protesters demonstrated at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations.
The passionate response to DeVos’ nomination, and eventually confirmation, may also be owed to the broad appeal of protecting public school funding, since plenty of middle class Americans of all political stripes send their kids to public schools or know someone who is a teacher. There is a possibility that a broad swath of Americans would similarly oppose a nominee for labor secretary whose record suggests that he will trample on labor protections.
This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on February 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.
Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, is uniquely unqualified for that job. As secretary, he’d be charged with enforcing health and safety, overtime and other labor laws. But as CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., he’s made his considerable fortune from violating these very same laws, according to a report by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United released this week.
ROC, which advocates for restaurant workers nationwide, surveyed 564 CKE workers, 76 percent of them women. In discussing the results of the survey, it’s important to note that while ROC surveyed a large number of workers, the respondents are people who chose to fill out a survey distributed by a workers’ rights organization, which they learned about through their social media networks. Still, ROC reported “unprecedented” interest in the survey among workers at CKE and their eagerness to be part of the study, and the experiences they reported, are striking reminders that by tapping Puzder, Trump has made clear that his administration will be a dystopian nightmare for U.S. workers.
A recent national survey among non-managerial women working in fast food found that 40 percent of such women have experienced sexual harassment on the job. Under Puzder, the problem could worsen: A whopping 66 percent of female CKE workers ROC surveyed had faced sexual harassment. Harassment came from supervisors, co-workers or—most often—customers, and took the form of sexual comments, groping, unwanted sexual texts and pressure for dates.
CKE is known for its sexist advertising, which depicts women in skimpy bikinis devouring cheeseburgers. And, certainly, imagery contributes to the culture, but when harassment is as pervasive as it appears to be at CKE, there are usually more structural problems at play. Companies in which women are harassed are generally places in which women—indeed, workers in general—are not valued or respected, and in which workers lack any institutional means to stand up for their rights.
In such companies, women are often not paid and promoted fairly. And, as one might expect, nearly one in five of the CKE workers ROC surveyed said he or she had faced discrimination at work, most commonly on the basis of gender, age or race.
Of the CKE employees who participated in the ROC survey, nearly one-third said they did not get meal breaks that are mandated by law; around one-fourth had been illegally forced to work off the clock or had timecards altered; almost one-third had been illegally deprived of overtime pay.
The ROC survey also found widespread health and safety violations. Nearly one-third of those surveyed said they had become sick or injured on the job. Workers described an environment of slippery floors, frequent grease burns and many said they had to do dangerous tasks—like cleaning a hood over a hot char broiler, for instance—without proper protective equipment.
Appointing Puzder as labor secretary is like inviting Tony Soprano to serve as attorney general. Let’s hope this enemy of working people will face humiliation and defeat when his confirmation goes before the Senate. His hearing, originally set for next Tuesday, may now be postponed until February. That delay would give labor—meaning anyone who works for a living—more time to mobilize against him. Let’s get started.
This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on January 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Liza Featherstone is a journalist and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart and False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Thursday, October 6th, 2016
Workers who are underpaid are all too often exploited and abused in other ways—after all, their employers know they’re vulnerable and need the paycheck. So we should be shocked, but not too surprised, by the contents of sexual harassment complaints against McDonald’s that the Fight for $15 has filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
Cycei Monae, a McDonald’s worker in Flint, Michigan, said a manager showed her a picture of his genitals and said he wanted to “do things” to her, according to a complaint provided by Fight for $15. Corporate officials ignored her complaints, Monae said on a phone call with reporters on Wednesday.
In another complaint, a worker in Folsom, California, said a supervisor offered her $1,000 for oral sex.
Thirteen of the complaints were by women, and two were by men, said Fight for $15, which the Service Employees International Union formed in 2012.
Expect McDonald’s to once again fall back on its excuse that it can’t possibly control anything about what franchisees do to their workers, even as it controls every other aspect of how franchise restaurants operate. That control is why the National Labor Relations Board has said McDonald’s should be treated as a joint employer of workers in franchise restaurants.
Issues like sexual harassment are why the Fight for $15 isn’t just about $15 an hour pay—workers say they’re fighting for “$15 and a union.” A union could represent workers facing harassment and give them power in numbers and tools to fight back. This is a fight more broadly for power and respect. Money is part of that, but it’s not the whole deal.
This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on October 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.
Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
The Roger Ailes harassment scandal was never just about Roger Ailes. We knew that from the beginning: Gretchen Carlson, the woman whose sexual harassment lawsuit helped topple the Fox News chief (and unleashed a flood of similar harassment and assault allegations) stated that she’d only come into Ailes’ line of sight because she was pursuing remedy for a different instance of workplace discrimination.
The circumstances of Carlson’s suit are indicative of a wider problem. In her suit, Carlson alleges that her Fox & Friends co-host, Steve Doocy, made her life hell by “mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist.” When she reported his behavior, Ailes allegedly called Carlson a “man hater” and told her to “get along with the boys,” eventually demanding sex in return for his intervention.
With all that in mind, can it really be surprising that yet another woman has now come forward to allege sexual harassment—or that the woman in question, Andrea Tantaros, describes Fox News itself as “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny?”
The specific harassers named are new—Bill O’Reilly, correspondent John Roberts and former Sen. Scott Brown are all named—and so are some details. (Tantaros alleges that after she shot Ailes down the company’s media relations department began arranging bad press for her, even setting up fake social media accounts to attack her online presence with nasty comments.) But the overarching allegation that Ailes “(did) not act alone”—that other men at the network benefited from a system designed to enable sexual harassment and that the system found a way to cover for the accused men and make their female victims disappear—was familiar from Carlson’s suit. The players may change, but the song remains the same, and anyone who’s studied how sexual harassment works has no trouble recognizing this particular tune.
Harassment isn’t an individual problem; it’s a problem inflicted by communities, either because the members participate in the violence or because they’ve learned to stay quiet as a means of self-defense. (Johnny Silvercloud/ Flickr)
Fox News has declined to comment on Tantaros’ case, citing pending litigation. The network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, released a statement saying it was conducting an internal review of conduct by Ailes and Doocy. Ailes has strenuously denied the accusations against him, as has Brown.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled on Ailes’ personal repugnance over the past few months, but sexual harassment almost never comes down to one corrupt executive. For that matter, the harm done to victims usually doesn’t start with the big, obvious assaults or demands. Sexual harassment is built on minor violations accrued over time—a put-down here, an off-color hint there—until the boundaries of normal workplace behavior have been eroded to the point of collapse, and the major crimes (assault, stalking, quid pro quo demands) can be committed without fear of violating norms.
Though some harassers may be more vicious and more predatory than others, the process of disintegrating those boundaries and establishing an unsafe environment is usually crowdsourced throughout an organization. If harassers don’t think they can get away with something, they won’t do it. Creating an environment in which they can get away with it—and in which they can get away with it precisely because everyone else is already doing it—is part of the process.
To think of sexual harassment as a problem of one bad man is to fall into the fallacy of seeing sexual assault as a crime of passion. Sexual harassment is much more likely to result in someone losing her job than in sex. Someone is unlikely to fall in love or lust because she’s been forced to undress in front of colleagues (something Tantaros alleges Ailes did to her) but she’s very likely to have her job performance compromised by psychological damage or distraction, or gain a reputation as difficult because she can’t safely or comfortably work with certain colleagues, or simply quit because she can’t bear to come into work.
Sexual harassers don’t want sex. They want to push women out of the labor force, which they can easily do by making work more dangerous for women than it is for men.
Though it’s tempting to see the Fox News situation as somehow due to the uniquely horrible politics or personalities of the people involved—and they are, indeed, horrible—workplace environments like that are common enough that up to 1 in 3 women reports experiencing workplace harassment in her lifetime. And while we often envision harassment as coming from a predatory boss, in practice it’s largely a horizontal crime, committed between people whose only real power differential is their gender.
In the above-cited survey, 75 percent of women’s harassment came from male co-workers, and only 38 percent came from male managers. (Female co-workers were also represented on the list—but comprised only 10 percent of perpetrators.) What causes workplace harassment isn’t the politics of the workplace, or even individual power dynamics. The underlying cause is how the organization sees and enforces gender.
One of the defining features of sexual harassment, and one of the main reasons few cases are ever formally reported to higher-ups, is that victims are often penalized (as Tantaros says she was) or faced with an escalation in the harassment (as Carlson says she was) if they speak up. By the time a harassment case gets bad enough that a woman asks for help, the systemic corruption has already taken hold and the deck is likely to be stacked against her.
Yet, as dangerous as speech can be, silence is worse. Consider the many silences that supported Ailes: The women who were kept out of jobs because they refused Ailes’ advances (thus narrowing the field to women who were less likely to report him), the women who were removed or told to “get along with the boys” or “let it go” if they complained about lesser instances of sexism (thus sending the clear message that reporting larger instances would not be welcome), the men who, in the absence of any consequences, learned to behave as if there were no rules and joined in with a grope here or a proposition there, or simply a daily habit of being nasty and demeaning to their female co-workers.
Each minor infraction gives other men the message that they can get away with similar or worse infractions. Each penalty dealt to a female co-worker teaches other women not to speak up or support their fellow victims. Before long, the entire organization is a minefield.
This is what we miss when we try to frame sexual harassment as a matter of a certain perpetrator, or a certain act or even a certain organization. Monsters breed in silence and shadow, and though we may be revolted by the ones we do occasionally bring to light, punishing or reviling them does nothing about the wider problem—which is our complicity, our participation in cultures that exalt men and feed off female humiliation.
Harassment isn’t an individual problem; it’s a problem inflicted by communities, either because the members participate in the violence or because they’ve learned to stay quiet as a means of self-defense. So, while it’s fun to point at Ailes and Fox News, we should also keep in mind that what we’re seeing is not unique, and maybe not even that special. We should look around at our own communities, and ask where the shadows have fallen and who might be getting hurt, just out of sight.
This article was originally posted at InTheseTimes.com on August 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She also contributes regularly to Rookie Magazine, and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. She’s the winner of the first Women’s Media Center Social Media Award. She’s interested in women in pop culture, women creating pop culture, reproductive rights, and women’s relationship to the Internet and the Left. You can follow her on Twitter at @sadydoyle, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
Some Missouri state lawmakers have a controversial idea for preventing future sexual harassment cases in the legislature: Imposing a new “modest” dress code for teenage interns.
State representatives are trying to figure out how to respond to several incidences of harassment among their ranks. In July, State Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed two interns. And in May, House Speaker John Diehl (R) — perhaps the most powerful lawmaker in the state — stepped down after the Kansas City Star reported that he exchanged sexually explicit text messages with a 19-year-old intern.
In response, lawmakers are attempting to make changes to the current internship program to provide more oversight. And at least two state legislators — Reps. Bill Kidd (R) and Nick King (R) — have thrown their weight behind an intern dress code.
“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” King wrote in an email to the rest of his colleagues after Kidd made the initial suggestion. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”
The idea was met with derision from Kidd and King’s Democratic colleagues, as well as roundly mocked on Twitter. Critics pointed out that changing interns’ dress codes won’t get at the fundamental issue of lawmakers potentially harassing their staff or colleagues. Plus, they argued there isn’t anything inherently distracting about interns’ bodies that should prevent their bosses from being able to go about doing their jobs.
“If my plaid jacket or the sight of a woman’s bare knee distracts you from your legislative duties, I would look for other work,” Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D) responded.
Missouri’s legislature isn’t the first to wade into this fight. Last year, Montana lawmakers madenational headlines for approving new dress code guidelines that stipulated “leggings are not considered dress pants” and women should be “sensitive to skirt lengths and necklines.” Female politicians in the state objected, saying the new rules created “this ability to scrutinize women” and were “totally sexist and bizarre and unnecessary.”
The argument over gender-based dress codes has also spread to middle schools and high schools across the country, as female students push back against the assumption that the way they dressmay distract their male peers from concentrating in class. Critics say this approach to dress codesreinforces the idea that women’s bodies are inherently tempting to men and that women are responsible for covering themselves up. The implicit message, then, is that it’s women’s job to change their behavior to prevent men from committing sexual crimes.
“Maybe voters should insist on a special requirement for men applying to be a Missouri lawmaker,” Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah wrote on Tuesday. “It could rule out any men who consider themselves to be lascivious, salacious and simply indecent.”
This blog originally appeared on ThinkProgress.org on August 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission
Tara Culp-Ressler is a Senior Editor at ThinkProgress. She was previously a Health Editor, Health Reporter, and Editorial Assistant for the site. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, Tara worked at several progressive religious nonprofits, including Faith in Public Life, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Interfaith Voices. Tara graduated from American University and is originally from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Wednesday, May 6th, 2015
The following contains spoilers from Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men. The big reveal in Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men was that Sterling Cooper, a company where racist jokes are frequently thrown about and where the company’s only female partner literally earned that partnership because she was prostituted out to a client, is actually a progressive employer by the standards of its era. The episode is the first after Sterling Cooper is absorbed into the advertising behemoth McCann Erickson, and it begins with an African American secretary telling her casually racist boss that she won’t be going over to McCann with him because “advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone.” Yet the highlight of the episode is Joan’s sexual harassment at the hands of a senior member of her new firm, and her eventual decision to take a buyout worth only half of her partnership stake in the now defunct Sterling Cooper rather than take McCann to court. (Joan, of course, is the partner who agreed to an indecent proposal from a client). In response to Joan’s fictional experience with sex discrimination, the real-life American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged Joan to contact them in a tweet announcing that “sexual harassment has no place at work!” Yet the sad truth is that, had Joan actually pursued a lawsuit against McCann in 1970, the year when the final half-season of Mad Men takes place, she would have almost certainly lost.
Sunday’s episode focuses on Joan’s increasingly terrible interactions with three male colleagues. Early in the episode, Joan is matched with Dennis, an account executive who botches a call with a client and then dismisses Joan’s feedback (“Who told you you got to get pissed off!”) when she calls him out on his incompetence. Fearful that Dennis will destroy the client relationships that are her only capital within the firm, she approaches Ferg, a more senior colleague, seeking help.
Though Ferg initially presents himself as a lifesaver — he takes Dennis off Joan’s business and promises that she will report directly to him – he soon makes it clear that his real interest in Joan is sexual. Ferg suggests that the two of them travel together to Atlanta to meet the client Dennis upset and tell her that he’s “not expecting anything more than a good time.” Once Joan goes over Ferg’s head, she’s informed that Ferg is a high-status player at McCann and that she needs to fall in line. At first, Joan threatens to bring in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Betty Friedan and the ACLU to press her sexual harassment claim, but she ultimately takes what amounts to a settlement offer consisting of only half of what McCann owes her for her stake in Sterling Cooper.
Had Joan sued McCann, she would have relied on a legal theory that wasn’t even in its infancy in 1970. The ban on sexual harassment in the workplace flows from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employment discrimination because of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Six years after the law’s passage, however, the courts had only barely begun to grapple with how sex discrimination actually manifests in the workplace, and the term “sexual harassment” didn’t even exist yet.
According to the National Organization for Women, “Cornell University activists coined the term sexual harassment in 1975,” five years after Joan’s fictional harassment took place. The first successful sexual harassment suit was decided in 1976, and that was only the decision of a single federal district judge. The EEOC did not issue guidelines targeting sexual harassment as a kind of sex discrimination until 1980. And the Supreme Court did not recognize Title VII’s prohibition on sexual harassment until its 1986 decision in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.
Had Joan filed suit against McCann, her lawsuit would have preceded all of these legal developments. For that reason, despite her threat to get the ACLU involved, it is unlikely that top-notch civil rights lawyers would have wanted to use her case as the vehicle to try to blaze a new legal trail. When lawyers bring a “test case” seeking to create new law, they typically choose their plaintiff or plaintiffs very carefully, selecting someone with an especially compelling case who is likely to win the sympathy of judges or justices. Bad facts make bad law, and a lawyer who offers a novel legal theory on behalf of a client who experienced subtle or uncertain harassment is likely to not only lose their case, they are likely to create a bad precedent that will harm future plaintiffs.
Here, for example, are the allegations in Vinson, the first Supreme Court case to recognize that sexual harassment suits are viable:
Respondent testified that during her probationary period as a teller-trainee, Taylor treated her in a fatherly way and made no sexual advances. Shortly thereafter, however, he invited her out to dinner and, during the course of the meal, suggested that they go to a motel to have sexual relations. At first she refused, but out of what she described as fear of losing her job she eventually agreed. According to respondent, Taylor thereafter made repeated demands upon her for sexual favors, usually at the branch, both during and after business hours; she estimated that over the next several years she had intercourse with him some 40 or 50 times. In addition, respondent testified that Taylor fondled her in front of other employees, followed her into the women’s restroom when she went there alone, exposed himself to her, and even forcibly raped her on several occasions.
Though Vinson recognized that this egregious level of harassment-becoming-assault violates the law, it set a very high bar for future sexual harassment plaintiffs. “For sexual harassment to be actionable,” Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the Court, “it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.’” The Court also cited favorably to a racial harassment case establishing that the “‘mere utterance of an ethnic or racial epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee’ would not affect the conditions of employment to sufficiently significant degree to violate Title VII.”
Ferg’s advances, though clearly inappropriate, did not even approach the egregious level of discrimination that allegedly occurred in Vinson. He began his conversation with Joan by excusing Dennis’s sexism, but ultimately promised to give Joan the professional “respect you desire.” And he propositioned Joan more through innuendo than through the direct demands that allegedly occurred in Vinson. There’s little doubt what kind of “good time” Ferg was looking for, but it would be difficult for Joan to prove that this one incident constituted the kind of “severe or pervasive” harassment Vinson demands.
That’s not to dismiss the reality of Ferg’s harassment of Joan, or to suggest that the working conditions that she faced were anything less than disgusting. But sexual harassment claims are notoriously difficult to win, and even our modern, more developed sexual harassment law is inadequate to combat the kind of harassment women like Joan continue to face in the workplace.
Had Joan filed suit against McCann, she would have been a true pioneer, bringing a novel legal case years before the term “sexual harassment” even existed. She also would have almost certainly lost her case in a legal system that was not the least bit prepared to hear it.
This blog was originally posted on Thinkprogress.org on May 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author. The author’s name is Ian Millhiser. Ian Millhiser is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal. Ian’s first book is Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.
Monday, March 2nd, 2015
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tries to stay far away from the gender-based stereotypes plaguing the tech industry.
“I never play the gender card…The moment you play into that, it’s an issue,” Mayer told Medium for an article centered on Yahoo’s two-decade legacy and Mayer’s hand in turning the company around. “In technology we live at a rare, fast-moving pace. There are probably industries where gender is more of an issue, but our industry is not one where I think that’s relevant.”
Mayer’s comments go against the consensus from Silicon Valley players and tech employees that name lack of diversity, gender-based discrimination and harassment as persistent problems in the industry.
While gender is certainly an issue when it comes to workplace diversity, it’s even more pronounced when climbing through the ranks. Women only make up 11 percent of all executive positions in Silicon Valley companies, and often deal with hostile work environments, where sexual harassment and innuendo are rampant.
Mayer has been lauded for her hands on approach in leading Yahoo’s transformation from a struggling ad-based model to a tech giant once again. She’s also garnered respect and praise for breaking into the fairly exclusive, male-dominated club of company executives, and even more so, tech CEOs.
She is one of 24 women CEOs at S&P 500 companies, and just one of four female CEOs in the tech industry’s S&P 500 companies — Xerox’s Ursula Burns, Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman, Oracle’s Safra Catz, and Virginia Rometty at IBM, according to a report from Catalyst, a business research and strategy firm.
Like other tech companies, including Google and Twitter, looking to diversify and shed the “brogrammer” stereotype, Yahoo employees are overwhelmingly male and white. Women make up 37 percent of of all Yahoo employees, according to the company’s diversity report released last year. Only 15 percent work in tech worldwide, while another 23 percent hold leadership positions.
Those figures are echoed throughout the industry and have led companies to make deliberate efforts to boost racial and gender diversity, weed out harassment and discrimination. For example, Google launched an initiative “Made With Code” to get young girls interested in coding, alongside independent efforts that ramp up outreach efforts through programs like Black Girls Code and Code2040 to make the industry less homogenous.
This article originally appeared on thinkprogress.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.
Tuesday, November 11th, 2014
Four female workers at two Ford Motor plants, the Chicago Ford Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant—have filed sexual harassment lawsuits in federal court, claiming they were groped, touched inappropriately and harassed.
The plaintiffs described an overwhelmingly hostile work environment for women, particularly women of color.
“It’s not like work, it’s more like a meat market,” Charmella LeViege, one of the four plaintiffs, said in a press conference.
As reported by Crain’s Chicago‘s Meribah Knight, another plaintiff, Christie Van, claimed that after complaining about harassment to the company’s harassment hotline,
while walking to her car she was pushed to the ground and stomped on and told she was a “black snitch bitch” and that she’d better not return to her job at Ford. The lawsuit stated Ms. Van’s assailant threatened that he knew where she lived and would kill her if she came back. …
[Maria] Price, a single mother, said she was “groped, felt on and violated in every way,” by managers, co-workers and supervisors while on the job. “It’s come from every angle,” she said.
The four plaintiffs in the suit, Leviege, Van, Price and Helen Allen, are not the only women claiming harassment at work. The case is a class action suit and Hunt claims that there are over a hundred complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The women’s attorney, Keith Hunt, has brought suits against Ford before, in 1995 and 1997. When the second suit was settled in 2000, it contained provisions requiring Ford to introduce new sexual harassment training and to have independent monitors at the plant to oversee the enforcement of the agreement. Ford was expecting to pay over $10 million for that new training.
In response to this latest lawsuit, Ford said in a statement, “Where allegations of misconduct are raised, it is our policy to investigate them thoroughly and take all appropriate steps in response.”
The Ford Code of Conduct says that employees should “report, and encourage others to report, incidents of harassment or retaliation. Report any incidents to appropriate Human Resources personnel, or use the Company’s reporting system.” It also bars retaliation for those who report.
How Ford investigated those complaints are part of the lawsuit. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Alejandra Cancino:
[Helen] Allen, a maintenance worker, said the location of the plant’s labor relations office, in sight of co-workers, makes it difficult to file complaints without being identified. Once she said she was called into the office after calling the harassment line. Then, a few minutes after she walked out, her supervisor was called in. As a result, workers immediately knew she had complained about her supervisor, she said.
“When you complain, you become the problem,” Allen said.
Allen went on to describe being pushed down, stomped on, and called a “snitch” as a result. She reported the incident, but the lawsuit claims Ford did not investigate. The reported incidents came from coworkers, supervisors, and managers.
The lawsuit is seeking damages, lost earnings, back pay, and independent monitors for five years. Workers at the plants are represented by the UAW.
This blog originally appear on IntheseTimes.com on Wednesday November 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17321/over_a_hundred_female_auto_workers_claim_assault_sexual_harassment_at_ford.
About the Author: Kevin Solari is an intern at In These Times.
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
A “whore,” “gold-digger,” “desperate loser,” and “just a bad girl.” These are only a handful of the sexist comments that Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of the mobile dating app Tinder, alleges she was subjected to by chief marketing officer Justin Mateen. Last month, Wolfe brought suit against Tinder for sex discrimination and harassment. Wolfe’s legal complaint details how Mateen sent outrageously inappropriate text messages to her and threatened her job, and how Tinder CEO Sean Rad ignored her when she complained about Mateen’s abuse. Wolfe claims that Mateen and Rad took away her co-founder designation because having a 24-year-old “girl” as a co-founder “makes the company look like a joke” and being a female co-founder was “sluty.”
The conduct, which Wolfe’s complaint characterizes as “the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with technology startups,” unfortunately remains the norm, and Wolfe is not alone in her experience. Last year, tech consultant Adria Richards was fired after she tweeted and blogged about offensive sexual jokes made by two men at a tech conference. After one of the men was fired from his job, Richards experienced horrendous Internet backlash, including rape and death threats. She was then fired by Sendgrid after an anonymous group hacked into the company’s system in some twisted attempt at vigilante “justice.”
In 2012, junior partner Ellen Pao filed a sexual harassment suits against a venture capital firm, alleging retaliation after refusing another partner’s sexual advances. And back in 2010, Anita Sarkeesian was the target of online harassment after she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a video series to explore female stereotypes in the gaming industry. An online video game was even released in which users could “beat up” Sarkeesian. These are just some of the many examples of demeaning attacks against women in the testosterone-driven tech world.
There are many state and federal laws that prohibit the kinds of workplace harassment that these women experience, including the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Bane and Ralph Act, and the California Constitution. These laws provide strong protections against gender harassment in employment and other contexts. So why do these attacks on women continue to happen in an industry that is supposedly progressive and populated with fairly educated adults?
It doesn’t help that tech companies are also notorious for their lack of diversity. This year, Google released its first diversity report which revealed that 70 percent of its workforce was male, and 61 percent was white. The workforce was also predominantly male and white at Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Another report this year shows that the percentage of women occupying CIO positions at companies has remained stagnant at 14 percent for the last decade. These numbers confirm what the stories reflect — that this industry truly is “a man’s world.” And this needs to change.
Some may dismiss Wolfe’s lawsuit and similar complaints as coming from women who are hypersensitive. Indeed, Wolfe claims that when she complained about Mateen’s harassment, she was dismissed as being “annoying” and “dramatic.” While some degree of social adaptation may be expected when joining any company, particularly freewheeling start-ups, there are limits that must be respected. Those limits are crossed when the pressure to conform to a white, male norm is so great that women who challenge this norm are further harassed or their voices suppressed.
Unfortunately, this marginalization of women who challenge the macho culture even comes from other women, who blame the “feminists” for making it harder for women to advance in tech. This also needs to change. Women who speak out about sexism and misogyny in the tech industry deserve the support of their colleagues, and men who turn to vitriol and juvenile behavior to intimidate deserve censure.
But change will not be achieved without help from sources outside the industry. Attorneys and employee advocates must continue to bring attention to the rampant sexism that is “business as usual” in the tech industry. We need to encourage tech companies of all stages and sizes to comply with employment laws, adopt proper HR practices, promote diversity and inclusion, and use objective standards to measure performance. If the tech industry is serious about encouraging young girls to become coders and developers, it also needs to place women in conspicuous leadership roles and pay real attention to change the “guy culture.”
The tech world doesn’t have to be a man’s world, and it shouldn’t be.
This blog originally appeared in CELA Voice on July 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/lisa-mak/.
About the Author: The authors name is Lisa Mak. Lisa Mak is an associate attorney at Lawless & Lawless in San Francisco, exclusively representing plaintiffs in employment matters. Her litigation work focuses on cases involving discrimination, harassment, whistleblower retaliation, medical leave, and labor violations. She is an active member of the CELA Diversity Committee, Co-Chair of the Asian American Bar Association’s Community Services Committee, a volunteer and supervising attorney at the Asian Law Caucus Workers’ Rights Clinic, and a Young Professionals Board member of Jumpstart Northern California working to promote early childhood education. She is a graduate of UC Hastings School of Law and UC San Diego.