Twenty-five years ago, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court Nomination Confirmation hearings. She put her career on the line and testified about her experience of being sexually harassed in the workplace by Thomas. While Thomas still ended up on the Supreme Court (by the smallest margin in Court history), her testimony changed the way that the United States and employers viewed sexual harassment in the workplace. She also empowered more people to come forward with their experiences.
The number of sexual harassment claims skyrocketed for several years following her testimony. A year after her testimony, the number of charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) jumped 50%. From 1992 to 1995, the number of charges files with the EEOC increased from 10,532 to 15,342. Employers began to take sexual harassment claims seriously. One month after Hill’s testimony, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1991, allowing victims of sexual harassment the right to pursue damages. Unfortunately, Sexual harassment has not disappeared since this important moment United States history, and people are still afraid to report it to their employers.
Sexual harassment defined
It is unlawful to harass an applicant or employee because of that person’s sex. Such harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, intimidating and/or inappropriate sexual conduct, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, and promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.
The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee, such as a client or customer of the employer. Anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of workplace sexual harassment. You do not need to be in a position subordinate to your harasser for it to be valid sexual harassment. However, perpetrators are often those who seek to exploit their authority over others for their own sexual benefit. In these situations, because of their "dependent" status, victims often unwittingly submit to humiliating conduct despite being offended by it.
According to the EEOC, there are two types of sexual harassment:
What do I do if I feel that I'm being sexually harassed?
Many people who are sexually harassed in the workplace do not believe they can report it to their employer. They may fear retaliation or termination, they may not be sure at all that they're experiencing sexual harassment, or they may assume they won't be taken seriously anyways. According to a 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll, approximately 41% of women who say they have been sexually harassed in the workplace have reported it. While this number is higher than it was when Anita Hill first came forward, challenges remain. Those who do not come forward often end up having to live with daily sexual harassment in the workplace.
Here are the steps you can take if you believe you are being sexually harassed at work:
If your sexual harassment suit is successful, your remedies may include: reinstatement (if you were terminated during the ordeal), back pay (if you lost money or missed out on a raise), fringe benefits lost, damages for emotional distress, your attorney's fees and court costs, and a requirement that your employer initiate policies or training to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com