In the wake of recent sexual harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, companies should be reminded of their responsibilities under the law. A written sexual harassment policy may help employees know what conduct is not appropriate. Training for both the supervisors and employees should be conducted to ensure that management and employees understand the law and the complaint procedures. As a business owner, you are responsible to provide a harassment-free workplace.
The Clarence Thomas Hearings
In 1991, the nation watched as the televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings showed law professor Anita Hill testify that she suffered sexual harassment by the Clarence Thomas who was being considered for an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This case put sexual harassment issues in the workplace as a top priority for all companies.
The Navy Tailhook Scandal
A female Navy aviator, Puopolo, while working as an Admiral’s aide, joined her boss, Rear Admiral Jack Snyder, in Las Vegas to attend the Tailhook convention of Naval aviators in September 1991. According to witnesses Ms. Puopolo and 87 other women were subjected to a ritual called “the Gauntlet.” Up to 100 intoxicated men groped and pinched these women. Puopolo reported the incident to her boss who said, “that’s what you get when you go down a hallway full of drunken aviators.” The Navy did not address her complaint, therefore, she went public. The Secretary of the Navy was subsequently removed by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992.
Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co.
This was the first Sexual Harassment Class Action Suit in the US. In 1975, Lois Jensen was one of the first women hired to work in Eveleth iron mine in northern Minnesota. She and her female co-workers suffered harassment from the men who still believed that women should stay at home. Jensen was also stalked by one of her supervisors. The harassment became intolerable and Jensen filed a complaint in 1984. It took years for her to find an attorney to move the case to move forward. Eventually, more women joined in her lawsuit. In 1998, the women settled with Eveleth for $3.5 million.
Senator Bob Packwood
In 1995, Senator Bob Packwood, an Oregon Republican, finally resigned instead of expulsion, after dozens of campaign workers and employees complained about sexual harassment. The chair of the Ethics Committee said at a news conference, ‘No work-place in America ought to tolerate the kind of offensive, degrading sexual misconduct that the ethics committee finds Senator Packwood to be guilty of. And it certainly cannot be tolerated in the United States Senate either.’”
Television host David Letterman allegedly had affairs with employees. One of Letterman’s female writers admitted the Letterman created a hostile work environment because other female staffers were benefiting professionally from his sexual affairs. There’s a subset of sexual harassment called sexual favoritism that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, can lead to a “hostile work environment,” often “creating an atmosphere that is demeaning to women.” The female staff writer conducted a Vanity Fair interview called “Letterman and Me” discussing the sexual harassment she endured.
If you have questions about how to create a Sexual Harassment Policy in your place of business please don’t hesitate to give me a call.