The hits keep coming for powerful men in the professional world who for years have harassed and humiliated the employees beneath them. The list of the disgraced juggernauts includes: producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, Comedian Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer.
There has been such an unprecedented flood of high-profile allegations and toppled careers, that it feels as if some invisible dam has broken and society might be on the cusp of a major shift. No doubt driven on by the social media #MeToo hashtag, there’s no denying that the issue of sexual harassment and gender discrimination has been thrust centrally into the national discussion.
While one can hope, with the issue so clearly planted in the spotlight, that more employees who have suffered harassment will find the courage to discuss their problems openly and seek justice for themselves, there are a number of reasons why a harassed person won’t come forward.
Continue reading this article to learn a little about the latest harassment scandals, how the law applies to them, and why a person who’s been harassed might hesitate to come forward. If you feel you’ve been the victim of harassment or discrimination, perhaps after reading this article you might find the courage to contact our office and see how we can help you fight back.
Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, Birds of a Feather
On November 21, the New York Times reported that long time on air correspondent Charlie Rose had been fired by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) because the network had received allegations “of extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior said to have revolved around his PBS program.”
In addition to firing Rose, PBS also cancelled distribution of his program.
The day before the Times article was published, the New York Post published an article in which eight women (anonymous) accused Rose of harassing them over the years—behavior which included groping and walking around naked.
A woman who worked as Rose’s personal assistant in the mid-2000s, said he called her on multiple occasions to describe a fantasy he had in which she swam in his pool naked.
Meanwhile, on November 29, longtime anchor of NBC’s Today Show, Matt Lauer, was fired after allegations surfaced of his inappropriate behavior with female employees. As the story developed in the days after Lauer’s dethroning, allegations came to light that suggested Lauer had sent female staffer lewd text messages and photos. There were even reports that Lauer was able to lock his office door from his desk.
According to Vanity Fair, Lauer would focus his attention on female interns, pages, production assistants and bookers.
He had been with the show for two decades.
The Challenge of Coming Forward
Although it might seem like the perfect moment for folks who have been harassed at work to come forward with their stories, the fact remains that this is still easier said than done.
An October 14 article published in Psychology Today, and penned by Dr. Wendy L Patrick, a San Diego prosecutor with experience in sex crimes, focused on the issue of sexual harassment, and victims’ hesitancy to come forward. She noted the problem can be particularly sensitive when the harasser and the victim have a long-established relationship (such as a work relationship).
In the article, Patrick explained:
“Having spent years prosecuting sex crimes, I can share that both research and practice demonstrates that particularly when the suspect and victim are well acquainted, delayed disclosure is closer to the rule than the exception.”
“Feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, and divided loyalties often result in an unwillingness to report the exploitive behavior immediately after the incident, if at all.
In her article, Patrick cited a study published in 2017 by the peer reviewed academic journal Gender and Society. The study, entitled “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women”, looked at the long-term effects of harassment on a woman’s career.
In discussing the study, Patrick explained, “In the workplace, sexual harassment contributes to financial difficulties primarily by instigating job change. [The study’s authors] note that while some women report harassment, many choose to just leave the jobs instead to escape the harassment, which can have a significant impact on a woman’s career attainment.”
And when it comes to the issue of fighting harassment, those of us who practice employment law also know that the fear of retaliation can be a powerful roadblock to many workers coming forward with their claims of harassment.
A 2003 study conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that 75 percent of employees who spoke out against workplace harassment faced retaliation.
While retaliation can often be as bad as the harassment, and lead to the loss of a job, it’s important to remember that there are anti-retaliation laws in place to protect worker rights. If you believe you have experienced either of harassment or retaliation for reporting a coworker’s harassment, consider scheduling a consultation with a qualified employment attorney.
Contacting an Attorney, Is it Worth It?
It’s a sad fact of the workplace—many people who experience harassment, don’t speak out publically against their harassers. This can be due to any number of reasons ranging from fear of retaliation to complex feeling of guilt and shame. And while we’re seeing a surge in a number of high profile harassment cases—many of them ending in disgrace for the harasser—there are certainly many more who continue to suffer in silence. At the end of the day, coming forward is a personal choice—one that requires great courage and resolve.
- If you are hesitant to speak to an employment attorney about workplace harassment, here are a few things you might consider:
- Your conversation with the attorney won’t be shared with your employer and will be kept in confidence.
- Many employment attorneys take cases on a contingency basis. This means the attorney is paid with proceeds from the settlement or judgment at the conclusion of the case.
- By coming forward you might have the opportunity to hold your harasser accountable, and perhaps prevent the behavior from happening to someone else.
- Employees who win a settlement or judgment against an employer could be eligible for lost wages, pain and suffering damages, and in some cases punitive damages.
Whatever your situation, it could be well worth the time and effort to discuss your issue with an employment attorney, and find out if you have a case worth pursuing. If you have questions about any of the topics covered in this article or another employment law issue, contact our office to schedule an appointment.