Monday, December 4, 2017
Sandra Sperino, Sexual Harassment Cases Often Rejected by the Courts
Many actors, politicians and executives, including at NPR, are now facing sexual-harassment allegations in the court of public opinion.
But in actual courts, such cases filed by workers against their employers are very often dismissed by judges. The standard for harassment under the law is high, and only an estimated 3 percent to 6 percent of the cases ever make it to trial.
That stands in stark contrast to the large pool of people who say they have experienced sexual harassment. In surveys, a quarter to half of women say they've experienced sexual harassment at work. But only a small fraction — estimates range around 5 to 15 percent of women — report their complaints to their employers, largely due to fear of retaliation.
Legal experts say the high dismissal rate of sexual harassment cases also has a chilling effect.
University of Cincinnati professor Sandra Sperino has read roughly 1,000 sexual-harassment cases that were dismissed before they went to trial.
"You'll see case after case where a woman was groped at work and the court will dismiss the case as a matter of law, finding that's not sexual harassment," Sperino says.
In a 1986 decision, the Supreme Court said the behavior needs to be "severe or pervasive" in order to qualify as harassment, whether it's on the basis of sex or race. Sperino says judges' interpretations of what qualifies are out of step with common sense and standard office policies.