Sexual harassment: the law and the reality

Published: Nov. 22, 2017 at 10:27 PM EST
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Sexual harassment is all over the news right now. But this is nothing new to the victims ... mostly women and some men ... who've experienced discrimination on the job.

Sexual harassment is discrimination and it is against the law.

But the law and reality can sometimes be very different.

Darlene Sweeney-Newbern is the head of the Toledo office of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and has handled hundreds and hundreds of sexual harassment complaints.

"Someone's being sexually harassed, right now here on the job in Toledo. Someone is absolutely miserable," she says.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission says sexual harassment is any unwanted attention of a sexual nature that creates discomfort and/or interferes with the job. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal abuse or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

There are two types: quid pro quo, which can be sexual demands in exchange for job security and a hostile working environment where the sexual harassment creates an intimidating and offensive working environment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex among other things.

Despite that, sometimes harassers keep their jobs and victims are fired even though retaliation is also illegal.

"There were plenty of situations where a person who was doing the harassing, was really well liked, the innovator of the company, had lots of patents, whatever the case may be. That person was not going to get fired," says UT Law professor Nicole Porter who specializes in employment discrimination and worked on many sexual harassment cases in private practice.

She says many women are afraid to report sexual harassment for fear of retaliation.

"They report it and now, all of a sudden, people are looking at them funny. No one will sit with them in the cafeteria," Porter says.

Sweeney-Newbern adds, "You have coworkers who possibly look you up and down and say, 'stay away from that person who's a troublemaker.'"

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission says if you're being sexually harassed at work, you should tell the harasser to stop; tell coworkers about the behavior; keep a detailed record of the harassment; know your company's policy on sexual harassment and if it doesn't stop, file a complaint.