The recent high profile sexual harassment lawsuit settlement agreement between former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson and Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox Corporation, highlights the plight that many working women face everyday at work when confronting sexual harassment by powerful people in their company. Gretchen Carlson said that Roger Ailes, the former Fox News Chairman, sexually harassed her. Her sexual harassment claim was substantiated because she recorded many of his sexually suggestive comments to her.
Sexual Harassment is Nothing New in the Workplace
Changing attitudes toward gender roles in the workplace have come under more scrutiny in society. However, despite the increased attention that sexual harassment cases receive, individuals who have been the victim of sexual harassment still find themselves unable to speak out about their situation because of a workplace culture that silences them for fear of retaliation and of losing their job if they say anything about being sexually harassed. Many times, after a sexual harassment claim, the company offers the sexual harassment victim a confidential settlement in return for their complete silence about their sexual harassment. The individual responsible for committing the sexual harassment is often never terminated or even disciplined, depending on how powerful they are within the organization. The confidential settlement encourages a “perception that the settlements are really cover-ups, especially when no disciplinary steps are taken against the perpetrators.”
Not only are there legal obstacles for victims of workplace sexual harassment to be able to speak openly about their victimization at work, there are social norms that can stifle speaking out too. It has come to be a norm in many workplaces that even when something goes wrong, the employees are expected to shield the powerful in the company. Many victims of sexual harassment are afraid to speak out about their sexual harassment for fear of losing their jobs or due to legal constraints put in place by the company in order to silence them. In fact, according to Catharine A. MacKinnon, a recognized expert on sexual harassment lawsuits and a professor of law at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law school, “A lot of men have gotten away with sexual harassment with absolutely no consequences.” Professor MacKinnon went on to say, “…the more powerful a man is, the more he gets away with.”
If you have been sexually harassed at work or have been retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, contact the Humphrey Law Firm for a confidential consultation with an Iowa sexual harassment attorney.
Source: The New York Times, “Secrecy of Settlements at Fox News Hid Bad Behavior”, by James B. Stewart, August 18,2016.