A Woman’s View: Sexual harassment in the workplace

By Donna Ward

In Northeast Philadelphia, females are subject to sexual harassment in both blue-collar and white-collar environments. Many women, including the five I spoke with, were unaware of any problems when the harassment first began. Gradually the intensity of the remarks and gestures increased with the more seemingly tolerant demeanor of the women.

“You try to laugh it off because you don’t want to be one of ‘those girls’ and the remarks just start to pile up.” said a woman from Frankford. “I have worked at my place of employment for over ten years and so many times I have wanted to quit due to comments and gestures and the worst is that it usually is the boss.”

Studies have shown that in 43 percent of cases, the harasser is a supervisor or manager making it even harder and more uncomfortable for the victim to bring charges or address the issue.

Did you know that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination? Did you also know that since women have entered the workforce they have been subject to discrimination based on gender? In today’s society, discrimination is not limited to just women.

However, statistics show that more frequently than not, females are the ones being persecuted for their gender. Certain jobs are off-limits, pay is sometimes much lower, advancement is more difficult and the fear of an employee on maternity leave adds to the increase of these biased mentalities.

Around 15,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission every year. Of those claims brought before the EEOC, only 11 percent of them involve a man filing charges against a female, who is usually a supervisor. Most of the companies that received sexual harassment charges had policies in place to prevent such situations, and more than half offered training programs and seminars for sexual harassment prevention.

The first case heard involving sexual harassment in the workplace was under Title VII in 1976. However, the public did not begin to fully understand the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace until 1991 when the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings regarding Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court nominee.

Many women are not even aware of what sexual harassment is or may look like. It is defined by the EEOC as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

* Submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or * Submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or * The conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

The Supreme Court has divided sexual harassment into two types. The first type would involve a manager or person of authority with a quid pro quo rationale; basically if you don’t comply with my requests, you are fired. The second type would be referred to as a hostile environment, which can be caused by anyone that the employee is in contact with.

Behavior that defines a hostile environment would be: unfulfilled threats to impose a sexual quid pro quo, discussing sexual activities, telling off-color jokes, unnecessary touching, commenting on physical attributes, displaying sexually suggestive pictures, using demeaning or inappropriate terms, such as “Babe,” using indecent gestures, sabotaging the victim’s work, engaging in hostile physical conduct, granting job favors to those who participate in consensual sexual activity or using crude and offensive language

Many women ignore some of these seemingly mild transgressions whether they find them offensive. It is easier to laugh off an ill-mannered joke or comment than to be ostracized for complaining. Many harassers take advantage of this theory knowing they will be able to inflict their annotations without reprimand.

When the EEOC investigates a claim or allegation they look at the entire situation and circumstances around and leading up to the harassment. They observe the nature of the inappropriate actions and the context in which the incident occurred. Studies have shown that anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment of various levels in the workplace and 62 percent of female targets took no action against their harasser.

The most difficult part of bringing a sexual harassment charge is proving the harassment occurred. The likelihood of having fellow co-workers support the victim is very low. Victims of sexual harassment should try to collect as much proof as possible to support their allegations. If there are any notes, pictures, voice mails, emails or anything concrete that can be saved, the evidence will help in proving the harassment charges. If several co-workers are involved or witness the harassment the victim should attempt to get the cooperation of as many as possible. Verbal accusations usually need support from other witnesses.

Sexual harassment happens more often than you would think in today’s growing liberal society. It will be several years before it is abolished from the workplace entirely so it is up to the employee to demand respect free from persecution. For more information or for help reporting a claim visit, you can visit EEOC’s Web site. A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by NEast Magazine’s columnist, Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com.

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