Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sex and The Big 5- Is Your Human Resources Department Educated?

Your HR department should know more than the law. In fact, they should know what caused each law and related landmark cases. I get questions all the time about the subject of Sexual Harassment. When I ask if the person knows the top three or five landmark cases on the subject, they usually say "no". Well, being educated on these public cases and the provisions in each state can better prepare you (and your staff) for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

What is sexual harassment? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment includes:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ... when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment.

1. Anita Hill/Justice Clarence Thomas

The first sexual harassment decision was actually handed down in 1976. But it wasn't until the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas that the concept entered national consciousness. The country watched live coverage of Anita Hill (Thomas's former colleague and a law professor) accusing Thomas of using inappropriate language and sexually harassing female colleagues when they worked together. Thomas denied all allegations. Thomas's nomination was barely approved by the Senate in a vote of 52-48.

2. Paula Jones/President Bill Clinton

President Clinton came under fire for alleged sexual harassment. Paula Jones was a state employee when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. In 1991, she claimed that Clinton exposed himself and asked her for oral sex in a hotel room. Jones dropped her suit against Clinton in exchange for $850,000. However, she never received an admission of guilt or an apology. Years later the Monica Lewinsky scandal led to the impeachment of President Clinton.

3. The Tailhook Convention

The Tailhook scandal involved sexual allegations against the armed forces. Former Navy lieutenant Paula Coughlin was one of more than 80 women who alleged they were sexually assaulted. The assailants were drunken Naval and Marine officers attending a conference at Vegas' Hilton Hotel. Coughlin ended up suing the hotel for failing to provide adequate security. She was awarded $1.7 million in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages.

4. Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing

In 1998, Mitsubishi agreed to pay $34 million to female workers at the Normal, Illinois plant where the work environment was anything but normal. The company was charged with allowing a hostile setting for women since at least 1990. In addition to the $34 million, Mitsubishi paid out several more million in individual suits. Why?

The women were routinely fondled, verbally abused, and subjected to obscene jokes, behavior, and graffiti. According to the case, one male worker even fired an air gun between a female's legs. Others were denied promotions when they refused to grant sexual favors. The company immediately hired Lynn Martin, former Secretary of Labor. Martin overhauled the anti-sexual harassment and complaint system, which now boasts a zero tolerance policy.

5. University of Colorado Football Program

Two women charged the University of Colorado's football program with sexual harassment. The women claimed they were sexually assaulted in 2001 at an off-campus party by Colorado football players and recruits. The women's suit was filed under Title IX, which promotes gender equality in education. Vastly different from the sexual harassment claims described above, violations of Title IX require showing that the school had actual notice of sexual harassment and then acted with deliberate indifference. The case was recently thrown out in a U.S. District Court, but the women have appealed.

My advise is to know the Federal law, know your state's law, and know the landmark cases behind the law. For example, the state of California has some of the strictest EEOC policies in the country. If you need help reviewing the Federal law, or setting up policies related to sexual harassment issues, click here: EEOC


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