Thursday, May 26, 2022
Molly Pratt, "'He Took It Out.' How Comedic Television Shows Shape Jurors' Perceptions of Workplace Sexual Harassment," 90 U.M.K.C. L. Rev. (2022)
This Comment analyzes the ways in which depictions of sexual harassment in media, specifically situational comedic ("sit-com") television series, affect potential jurors' understanding and evaluation of workplace sexual harassment claims. Part I begins by explaining the "cultivation theory," which hypothesizes that television shapes viewers' beliefs about the world around them. This section also considers social science evidence that exemplifies how people are influenced by different forms of media, especially media depictions that sexually objectify women. Next, Part II describes the elements of the two different types of harassment claims to provide a backdrop of what real humans, not characters on television, endure every day at work. Part III compares two major sensationalized claims of sexual harassment that have occurred over the past thirty years. Part IV summarizes various episodes of Seinfeld, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm that include scenes of sexual harassment in order to analyze how prospective jurors might consider the illegal harassment shown on television almost every night. Finally, Part V proposes actions that can be taken by the legal and entertainment industries to ameliorate the harmful effects that comedic depictions of sexual harassment can have on juries.
Comedic television episodes which downplay workplace sexual harassment situations that would otherwise make for valid claims under Title VII may cause jurors to become desensitized to the severity of real-world harassment experienced by real-world victims. While this Comment aims to illustrate how media consumption affects the breadth of the legal industry, its underlying goal is to shed light on how inaccurate depictions of legal issues can be harmful to a viewer who is untrained in the law.