Although most employers understand that sexual harassment is prohibited at work, such claims continue unabated–even in 2017. A few recent headlines provide good reminders of why employers should continue to take action to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in their own workplaces.
First, an Illinois federal jury awarded $6.45 million to two women who were fired from an engineering consulting firm after experiencing gender discrimination and sexual harassment on almost a daily basis.
The plaintiffs’ allegations included being talked to in vulgar terms by male executives and board members. One of the plaintiffs alleged being referred to as “Stripper Boobs” and “High Beams” (in reference to the plaintiff’s breasts). She also alleged that her boss would request sexual favors from her and that the company’s president referred to her as a “cunt” and “bitch.” She also alleged that management allowed male employees to record and take pictures of female employees without their consent. The other plaintiff alleged that another male boss masturbated to porn with his office door open within earshot of her and others.
The plaintiffs alleged that they also suffered professionally, being excluded from meetings and seminars, denied promotions, pay, bonuses and vacation time and subjected to heightened scrutiny.
Additionally, in her viral blog post, former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, details significant claims of gender bias, sexual harassment and retaliation, which she reported to Uber’s HR department, who essentially failed to take corrective action. Fowler alleges that the HR department lied to her and even began to point the finger at her. Fowler ultimately left her role at Uber after one year. Two days after the blog post went up, Uber hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an internal investigation and also hired a second law firm to investigate Fowler’s claims. Fowler also hired her own attorney while Uber investigates.
While the male-dominated tech industry makes sexual harassment and bias claims more common in the tech world, sexual harassment claims continue across industries. Fox News is at the center of significant controversy regarding sexual harassment. Numerous women have come forward in the past few weeks with new claims that they were sexually harassed by Bill O’Reilly and a recent investigation revealed that in the past, five women who accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment reached settlement agreements totaling approximately $13 million. This all came to a head when the network booted O’Reilly amid the numerous sexual harassment allegations. As you may recall, last year, former Fox News anchor, Gretchen Carlson, made headlines with the $20 million settlement she received after suing her former boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. (Ailes was also ousted from the network as a result of the sexual harassment claims).
Finally, statements made by hundreds of current and former employees of Sterling Jewelers (the parent company behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers) were disclosed, alleging a rampant culture of sexual harassment throughout the company. Employees reported being routinely groped and urged to sexually cater to their bosses. Sterling disputes the allegations, which are currently pending in a private class action arbitration involving 69,000 employees alleging sexual harassment and wage discrimination.
Practice Tip: Employers should ensure that they have robust policies against sexual harassment, with clear reporting mechanisms and anti-retaliation provisions. Employers should promptly and thoroughly investigate reports of harassment and take swift corrective action, if appropriate. To watch Maital Savin’s recent recording on How to Reduce Sexual Harassment Claims in Your Workplace, click here.