The Difficult Role of Witnesses in Sexual Harassment Cases

Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Debra Katz was quoted in a Washington Post article about the burdens that witnesses who speak up about sexual harassment can carry. The story, "For witnesses, calling out sexual harassment is complicated,” details specific anecdotes of workers who were retaliated against for corroborating a co-worker’s sexual harassment complaint, and how many have struggled to find comparable work since being fired.

While confirming a victim’s account does constitute “protected activity,” the EEOC has to prove that the witness followed every step, and affirmatively opposed the harassment throughout the process. Lawsuits can take years to make their way through the courts and even if the witness is eventually awarded compensation, it can be very difficult to secure a new job.

The witnesses discussed in this article are rare in the world of employment law, as finding witnesses who are willing to come forward in sexual harassment cases is difficult.

“When someone calls me, my first inquiry is, ‘Who are the witnesses who can confirm this individual harassed you?’” said Ms. Katz. “Retaliation is a real fear. Often what we hear is ‘Don’t use my name in your letter but when an investigation comes up, I will come forward and say what I know.’”

As the #MeToo movement continues to shed light on workplace sexual harassment, hopefully more brave witnesses will be encouraged to come forward with less fear of retaliation.

The story was picked up by ABC News, and can be read here.