Katz, Marshall & Banks senior counsel Carolyn Wheeler was a guest on The Lorne Epstein Show where she discussed workplace sexual harassment from a legal and cultural perspective. In the episode, titled “Talking about Sexual Harassment at Work,” Ms. Wheeler discussed the legal history of sexual harassment, and how we can make progress in the future.
Ms. Wheeler explained that there is no federal law that specifically outlaws sexual harassment, but rather it is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination because harassment is defined as treating an employee differently because of sex – the logic being a woman would not be subjected to the same words and actions were she a man.
Ms. Wheeler believes that Title VII would be a more effective weapon against harassment if the damages were not capped (at $300,000 for the largest employers) because employers would then have a greater incentive to remedy and prevent harassment. “I would fault mostly employers for not doing what they need to do to create a culture where this is not accepted.” She believes employers need to emphasize a positive message of inclusion not just a punitive message of the consequences for workplace harassment.
The promotion of more women to boardrooms and management positions would help to eradicate sexual harassment. Harassment cases frequently involve men in positions of power using that power to intimidate and take sexual advantage of subordinates. Those power dynamics also prevent women from speaking out, for fear that that their careers would be in jeopardy. Increasing the power of women and minorities could help to establish workplaces where everybody can feel accepted and valued for the merit of the work they do rather than their willingness to tolerate inappropriate sexual advances or demeaning treatment.
Ms. Wheeler spoke with host, Lorne Epstein, as well as Sharifa Gomez, an HR professional and consultant.
Listen to the full conversation below, courtesy of The Lorne Epstein Show.