Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The first recorded workplace sexual harassment in the U.S. occurred in 1976; however, it was not until 1991 when a court hearing was conducted by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to probe into a sexual harassment complaint against a Supreme Court nominee. It was only during this time that the American public became fully aware that sexual harassment was a problem that needed to be legally resolved.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was created in 1964 and charged with enforcing anti-discriminatory acts and laws against abuses in the workplace, declared unlawful all forms of harassment based on an employee’s or an applicant’s gender. Based on EEOC’s definition and as clarified in the website of the Leichter Law Firm, sexual harassment is any act that: requests for sexual favors; makes unwelcome sexual advances; involves physical or verbal sexual insults or remark regarding a person’s sex. While the victim may either be a man or a woman (women are the usual victims, though), so is the harasser (who may be a co-worker, a supervisor, a customer or a client); there are instances, however, when both victim and harasser are of the same sex.

The passing into law of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was supposed to give victims of sexual harassment the legal hope of redeeming themselves and of being compensated for the pain and suffering that they have been made to experience. This never happened, though, as victims were only allowed to collect (after an EEOC probe that was very hard to win) their lost wages (due to forced leave orders), back pay and a notice of reinstatement to work – a little amount of cash plus the chance to continue in their already intolerable work. Many, however, did go back to work, but only to be harassed again and made to feel that they should rather better resign).

With the awareness that the anti-sexual harassment law and the remedy given to victims needed to be strengthened, the US Congress made improvements in the Civil Rights Act in 1991. Among the amendments was the inclusion of the legal right of the victim to receive compensatory damages (not just back pay), which included present and future financial losses due to mental anguish, suffering, emotional pain, inconvenience, and other forms of non-financial losses.

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