Things have come a long way since the days of Anita Hill and sexual harassment cases, yet victims still say silent even today. Kathleen Peratis, attorney and partner with Outten and Golden, an employment law firm in New York, says there are many reasons victims don't pursue a remedy as far as they can.
For many kinds of jobs, it makes the victim a "marked woman," and other companies may not be so eager to hire her, even though that's illegal, because employers worry about anyone with a penchant for suing them. Additionally, having a bad reputation is a strong reason why women didn't sue years ago and don't now. It can also be extremely difficult to be a plaintiff in these cases, so the empowering aspect and possibility of getting money aspect has to be balanced against the painful process of a lawsuit, says Peratis.
Sexual harassment training is less of a problem now than it used to be, especially in large companies, and it's not so much the clarity of the law but more of the unacceptability of the conduct, says Peratis. Sexual harassment is much less socially acceptable than it used to be and the training has helped but it is not a 100% deterrent, adds Peratis.
An employee can be part of a "hostile environment," which is filled with sexism, gender jokes, threats and an overall bad atmosphere, making women feel fearful and marginalized. Sexual harassment itself applies when you are a specific victim, ie, when your boss is hitting on you specifically. For many people, notes Peratis, both exist at the same time.
People often don't complain because they're afraid to lose their job or position and this puts the victim in a difficult position, says Peratis, because when they worry about losing their job, they are right to worry. There is always an element of risk associated with pursuing legal action in a sexual harassment case, she adds.
Peratis says that often times a victim will report an incident to human resources "for the record" and asks that they don't do anything about it. The human resources person should always do something. Also, if a company decides to retaliate against the victim, that is considered illegal and much easier to prove, according to Peratis.
Kathleen Peratis is a partner with Outten and Golden and has been practicing employment law for over 25 years. More information about Kathleen is available here. For more information on the article Kathleen wrote on this topic in The Atlantic, click here. Kathleen spoke with The Employment Law Channel, an affiliate of The Legal Broadcast Network, both of which provide online, on-demand legal video content.