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Beyond the Weinstein Headlines: The Price of Sexual Harassment

It has been almost impossible to miss the recent headlines about Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual harassment of a multitude of women in Hollywood. While the high-profile nature of his job and the celebrities he harassed have made it exciting media fodder, the reality is that this issue has been a constant for employers since Anita Hill testified in 1992. The EEOC received 5,607 complaints of harassment in 1992 and 6,758 in 2016.

Employers and employees pay a high price for sexual harassment. For employers, training is an essential part of the arsenal to prevent it from occurring. While it does require a financial investment, workplace training will reduce the potentially bigger costs associated with the settlement of harassment claims or large jury verdicts. Insurers may indeed require training when providing “employment practices liability insurance.” The amount employers spend resolving claims of harassment to avoid litigation is unknown and most of these amounts are subject to non-disclosure clauses. However, Fox News paid $13 million to women asserting sexual harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly. Jury verdicts are also expensive. One California woman was awarded $168 million for sexual harassment she experienced at a hospital where she was employed as a nurse.

Sexual harassment victims pay deep costs as well. Victims, who are primarily women, suffer varying degrees of emotional trauma. There are impacts to their careers as well. Women who come forward, especially about high-level executives, are too often disbelieved and urged to keep quiet. For those women who leave, they have to start over somewhere new and end up delaying their career growth. The New York Times recently reported on another “unintended consequence” of harassment: men avoiding one-on-one meetings with women to protect themselves. Vice-President Pence is known for following this rule. But that reaction serves to further punish women who are harassed and exacerbates the challenges many women already face in trying to advance their career in male-dominated industries. Women should not have to pay the price for the men who act inappropriately toward them.