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Sexual Harassment Carries a High Price Tag

Over the past several weeks, it seems that every day brings another story. Stories of sexual harassment and, in some cases, assault have been in the headlines since the allegations against celebrated producer and co-founder of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, surfaced in early October. Since then, other rich and powerful men from coast to coast have been accused of inappropriate behavior in and out of the workplace.

With each breaking news headline, I can’t help but wonder who will be next. Some of the men embroiled in these allegations are people I have admired for many years. Correction, I have admired their work. I do not know any of them personally. Nevertheless, it disappoints me to learn that their behavior is being called into question. Stories like these are not new, only the individuals associated with these stories are new.

Sexual harassment as defined by The American Association of University Women is any “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Harassment was classified as discrimination based on sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Supreme Court began recognizing claims for sexual harassment more than 30 years ago. Probably the first and most widely known case of its kind was that of Anita Hill against then Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas.

It seems for the first time in my generation women have found their voice and are unafraid to speak their truth. The resurgence of the #MeToo Movement has given countless women the courage to come forward with their stories of harassment. So much so that Time recognized The Silence Breakers as the 2017 Person of the Year.

Our country has a long history of not confronting the uncomfortable. Now we have no choice but to address this issue and have the necessary conversations. As my aunt would say when I was growing up, “Everything that is done in the dark will come to light.” And what a spotlight it is!

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a report, “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace,” in June 2016, where they concluded that “anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” That means that at a minimum, one in four women has been harassed.

It is important to point out that workplace sexual harassment does not happen only to women. Men experience harassment as well. The EEOC reports that incidences of men claiming sexual harassment have increased nearly twofold — from 8 percent to 16 percent of all claims over the period from 1990 to 2009.

Workplace sexual harassment does not impact only the accusers; it also can have a financial impact on the employers. For example, according to the EEOC, it is conservatively estimated that “as a result of sexual harassment, job turnover ($24.7 million), sick leave ($14.9 million), and decreased individual ($93.7 million) and workgroup ($193.8 million) productivity had cost the government a total of $327.1 million,” as reported in 1994 by the independent federal agency, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). MSPB was created to protect the rights of federal and civil service employees.

Keep in mind, these numbers do not include financial settlements. Since 2010, nearly $700 million has been paid to employees who have filed harassment claims through the EEOC’s administrative enforcement prelitigation procedure.

Finally, according to Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice of the National Women’s Law Center, women experience high levels of harassment in male-dominated industries. Next month, we’ll examine how this impacts the financial services industry.



Jocelyn Wright is the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected] .

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