The “Crime” of Sexual Harassment
December 28, 2012 Leave a comment
It is in France.
France’s General Assembly enacted a new sexual harassment law on July 31, 2012 that includes criminal penalties of up to three years in prison and a fine of approximately $56,000 for serious cases.
The new French law defines harassment as imposing on someone, in a repeated way, words or actions that have a sexual nature and either undermine the person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating nature or create an intimidating, hostile or offensive situation.
In the United States, sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The remedy is civil, which means it is up to the victim to sue and the damages are monetary and/or injunctive relief. In criminal cases, a prosecutor sues on behalf of the state and may seek fines and imprisonment.
It can be very difficult to win a sexual harassment case in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that U.S. law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation by judges, especially with respect to whether sexually harassing conduct is frequent enough and severe enough to be actionable.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that WirelessComm, a Northern California distributor for the Metro PCS cell phone service provider, had agreed to pay $97,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the agency.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the store manager of WirelessComm in Watsonville, CA, subjected then-19-year-old Deisy Mora to abuse throughout her seven months of employment at the store
He frequently commented about her physical appearance, texted her photos of himself and the words “Te quiero” (‘I love you’ in Spanish), and referred to women in general with slurs and epithets.
In addition, the EEOC said, the store owner contributed to the harassmen by inviting Ms. Mora to travel with him, asking her and others if they were pregnant and, on one occasion, asking her to text photos of herself and other female staff members.
The EEOC says Ms. Mora’s complaints were not addressed and she eventually quit her job when she could no longer endure the harassment.
What happened to the store manager and the store owner?
Under the consent decree, WirelessComm agreed to train the store owner and staff regarding anti-discrimination laws. But there is no indication the WirelssComm store owner and store manager didn’t understand anti-discrimination laws in the first place, only that they didn’t place any importance on these laws and didn’t follow them.
The EEOC said WirelessComm also agreed to hire an equal employment opportunity consultant and a human resources consultant to revise its EEO policies; monitor the workplace; respond to any allegations of harassment arising during the three-year pendency of the decree; and report harassment complaints to the EEOC.
In other words, WirelessComm will start following the law.
In the final analysis, it seems like a small price to pay for a campaign of a harassment waged by two adult men in positions of authority against a vulnerable teenager. If the store owner and store manager had mugged Ms. Dora while she was walking down a street, they’d probably spend at least some time in jail. Here they stole her peace of mind and robbed her of financial security in a time of high un employment.
The United States recognizes two types of sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo and (2) hostile environment.
Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” This type of harassment occurs when a boss or supervisor asks for a sexual favor in return for a job benefit.
Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when the harassment is so severe or pervasive that it creates a sexually intimidating or abusive work environment. Hostile environment sexual harassment must be:
based on sex (sexual conduct, sexual comments, or nonsexual conduct that is based on your gender);
unwelcome (you must show that you do not enjoy the harasser’s attention and that you are not encouraging it); and either
- severe (one or more serious incidents that affect your job) or pervasive (a pattern or series of smaller incidents that are so widespread that you have trouble doing your job as a result).