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Study: Most who report sexual harassment will face retaliation

| Oct 23, 2020 | Sexual Harassment |

Many regular readers of our Kansas City employment law blog know that federal employment law prohibits workplace sexual harassment, as well as retaliation against an employee who reports harassment.

Despite federal and state employment laws, before the #MeToo movement launched three years ago, many people who endured workplace sexual harassment kept stories of being groped, propositioned or even assaulted to themselves. They believed that if they reported the harassment, nothing would happen to the perpetrator, or even worse, that they would be punished for calling attention to the abuse.

According to a study of workplace sexual harassment in the #MeToo era, not much has changed. More than 7 in 10 victims of sexual harassment faced retaliation afterward.

Punished for reporting harassment

The authors of the “Coming Forward” study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center analyzed information from more than 3,300 online requests for legal assistance received from January 1, 2018, through the end of April this year.

Seventy-two percent of those who complained about on-the-job sex harassment said that they were subjected to various forms of retaliation afterwards, including termination, being denied promotions and being sued for defamation.

The most common form of retaliation: being fired (36 percent). The second most common punishment: receiving poor performance evaluations (19 percent).

Harassment, retaliation by the numbers

While awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace increased after October of 2017 when #MeToo commanded national attention, the “Coming Forward” study indicates that many employers still prefer to look the other way when complaints are filed.

Other findings in the recently released study include:

  • 70 percent: reported the sexual harassment they experienced
  • 64 percent: reported the harassment to their employer
  • 56 percent: the perpetrator was a supervisor, manager or employer
  • 15 percent: were threatened with job loss, legal action or physical harm if they reported the harassment
  • 37 percent: nothing happened to the perpetrator after the harassment report
  • 28 percent: the harassment was not limited to an isolated incident
  • 21 percent: the perpetrator harassed multiple people
  • 22 percent: the harassment had a negative impact on their economic well-being
  • 19 percent: the harassment had a negative impact on their mental health
  • 36 percent: experienced sexual assault, rape or other forms of physical harassment
  • 11 percent: filed a police report of the physical harassment

Harassment and workplace discrimination

According to the study, 18 percent of those who face sex harassment also have to contend with forms of discrimination based on gender and other aspects of their identities, including disability, color or national origin.  Eleven percent said that they experienced both gender and race discrimination at work.

It’s worth repeating that sexual harassment and retaliation are both prohibited by state and federal law, as is discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and pregnancy.