Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Congratulations and kudos to Suja Thomas (Illinois) and David Lopez (EEOC General Counsel) on their article published yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle on the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Here's an excerpt; the full article is at Why Judges Routinely Dismiss Sexual Harassment Cases:
The scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, Silicon Valley and Fox News have shone a spotlight on corporate tolerance of sexual harassment by executives. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized people could sue for such harassment more than 30 years ago. But at least 25 percent of women say that they are still harassed in the workplace. So, why does sexual harassment persist? A surprising part of the story lies with federal judges. Despite coverage under the law, when an employee alleges sexual harassment, a judge will likely dismiss the case.
Let’s look at the facts of some dismissed cases: co-workers and a supervisor engaged in conduct toward a female employee, such as making comments about the worker’s breasts, requesting to lick whipped cream and wine off of her, and rubbing her shoulder, arms and rear end; a supervisor asked a female worker to go to hotel room and spend the night with him, asked her for a sexual favor, constantly referred to her as “Babe,” and unzipped his pants and moved the zipper up and down in front of her; a supervisor told a worker she had been voted the sleekest posterior in the office and on another occasion deliberately touched her breasts with some papers he held in his hands.
In deciding whether to dismiss a case, a judge examines the paper records of the evidence — a written account of what the witnesses will say and relevant documents. Using this information, if the judge thinks a reasonable jury could not find for the employee, then the case is dismissed. When employers request dismissal of discrimination claims, including harassment claims, more than 70 percent are dismissed in whole or in part, according to a 2007 federal study.
This high dismissal rate should give us pause to consider whether judges are making the right decisions. Judges are not supposed to dismiss cases based on their own opinions of the evidence. But, their own opinions are all they have, and a judge’s opinion may differ from a jury’s.