The 1960s probably come to mind when you think of men making aggressive (perhaps appalling) advances towards female co-workers. But the reality is, that “Mad Men” stereotype is not too far from the corporate world today. Even the 2016 election cycle seemed to bring some of this issue to light – i.e. grab them by the what? The Roger Ailes controversy was one of the most widely publicized and closely followed news stories of the year. Over two dozen women came forward to speak out against Ailes’ inappropriate behavior, leading the big wig to resign from Fox News after a 20 year career. The world was shocked when women spoke of sexual harassment and assault from beloved comedian Bill Cosby.
But for many women, they don’t have to watch the news to see harassment culture in action. A report released in June 2016 by the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace revealed some alarming findings. Key findings included:
- Workplace harassment remains a persistent problem
- Workplace harassment often goes unreported (3 out of 4 victims never report the harassment)
- There is a compelling business case for stopping and preventing harassment
- It starts at the top
- It’s on us (everyone)
The EEOC also notes that 45% of all complaints filed are based on sex. This is far more than any other type of harassment reported. They have also noted that 83% of all sexual harassment charges were filed by women.
Joann Lublin details the trials and tribulations of female executives in her book, Earning It: Hard Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World. She is also the management-news editor at the Wall Street Journal. Lublin interviewed several successful women for the book and shares their personal stories of sexual harassment and degradation. Many of the anecdotes take place in the 1980s and 1990s, but not all. The broad span of years in which the incidents take place is rather disheartening. Unfortunately, it’s evident from many sources that sexual harassment still prevails today as well.
Most recently, a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against insurance company AIG by their former employee Marlee Valenti. The plaintiff began working for AIG in 2009, and was promoted within a year to Senior Underwriter. She won multiple awards for her performance. The issues began in 2012 when she was transferred to the Public Management Liability Commercial Lines Division. The division was well known within the company as the “Boy’s Club”, as only an estimated 10% of its employees were female. Valenti states that in the division, she and other female employees endured incredulous acts of sexual harassment, including male executives hiding under women’s desks in order to look up their skirts. Valenti also stated that she had been groped and licked by male co-workers, among other things. Though the behavior was grotesque, the plaintiff didn’t feel there was anyone she could make a complaint to. Her direct supervisor Michael Donnelly was, in her words, “a willing participant” in the problematic behavior. Eventually, Valenti states that Donnelly began showing “clear disdain” towards her. This escalated in September of 2013 when she received a formal written performance warning. Along with the write-up, Valenti’s biggest account was taken away from her and she claims that she was denied opportunities, as all of her supervisors began ignoring her. In December 2013, the problems came to a head when Valenti discovered her co-workers had been “speaking negatively” about her to others in the industry. She had enough. This prompted Valenti to submit a 150 page rebuttal to management, complete with “evidence” of the harassment she had endured. The following month, Valenti was fired. The company allegedly completed “a perfunctory investigation” but found no wrongdoing.
It is only a small percentage of stories such as these that gain notoriety. The only way that workplace harassment will be eradicated is if each of us take action. That can be in the form of making complaints on your own behalf, or standing up for co-workers. When necessary, it can also take the form of a lawsuit. If you feel that you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, call our office for a free consultation. Together, we can help end this epidemic, one case at a time.