By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Sexual harassment is a constant issue. But sometimes there is relative silence on the subject, and sometimes there are waves of attention. Right now, one of those waves seems to be cresting. With the repeated harassment claims and settlements at Fox News, and the number of women accusing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein -- a number now approaching triple-digits and including some very familiar names -- the focus of attention is broadening to include many other harassers in the media, politics, the arts, and academics. The attention has spawned a "MeToo" hashtag campaign, with an unprecedented number of women from all walks of life stepping forward to publicly share their experiences as a target of sexual harassment or abuse.
In the workplace, harassment is disturbingly common, with one recent report (Rand, 2017) indicating that nearly one in five say they face a hostile or threatening social environment at work. And always, when people come forward days, years, or even decades after the harassment, the question is, "Why did you wait so long?" But as the high-profile scandals continue to receive attention, and especially as more and more women come forward and share experiences that they did not necessarily report or pursue at the time, I believe that the reasons for the silence are becoming more public, and potentially more understood and accepted. We will need to wait to see if attitudinal data bear this out, but anecdotally at least, the general public is getting a more detailed lesson than it has gotten in the past on why harassment targets are sometimes silent. The issue is broad enough to potentially change the climate for plaintiffs and defendants in workplace harassment claims. In this post, I will look at some of the reasons getting greater attention, and the messages they carry for litigation.