Debra Katz Testifies at Congressional Hearing on Workplace Sexual Harassment

Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Debra Katz testified at a hearing before the bipartisan House Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace and legislative approaches to relieving the epidemic.

Ms. Katz argued that federal law is often inadequate in protecting women who are victims of sexual harassment.  She pointed to a number of specific problems with federal statutes that Congress must remedy.

The first is a provision in the new tax law that taxes attorneys’ fees in sexual harassment settlements, and therefore greatly decreases victims’ financial recoveries.

Another is mandatory arbitration – called a “known ill” by Ms. Katz – which prevents victims from bringing their claims to court, and instead forces them into arbitration.  These proceedings almost always favor the employer and result in smaller remedies, if any.

A third problem is the widespread use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims: “The [#MeToo] movement has illustrated the transformative power of disclosing harassment that has long been kept in the shadows.”

As Ms. Katz noted, finding solutions to these discrete issues would undoubtedly help millions of women obtain better access to lawyers and would hold more harassers accountable.  But there is a more fundamental barrier to justice for victims of harassment: “The legal framework poses too high a burden on people to prove sexual harassment,” explained Ms. Katz. “Severe or pervasive, which is a court made-up standard, is too high a standard.”

Wednesday’s hearing is the latest in a series the women’s caucus has heard this year on trying to find ways to combat sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Ms. Katz was joined by Linda Seabrook, workplace safety director for anti-sexual violence group Futures Without Violence; Tracy Chou, a Silicon Valley activist who pushes for diversity in the tech community; and Jess Ladd, the creator of college sexual assault reporting service Callisto.

Watch the full hearing here.