EEOC Commissioner Says #MeToo Movement Has Not Led to Increase of Cases
At a recent national conference for the Society for Human Resource Management, Victoria Lipnic, the acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) revealed that the #MeToo movement has not resulted in an increase of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC. As someone who regularly advocates for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, this, unfortunately, was not a surprise to me. While the #MeToo movement has been instrumental in terms of awareness of workplace sexual harassment, what constitutes sexual harassment, and the realization that it can happen to anyone, it has not changed a few things that I believe are deterrents for anyone to file a charge with the EEOC. Some of those deterrents include the following:
Fear of Retaliation- This may be the single greatest deterrent. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Ohio Revised Code Section 4112 expressly prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee for his or her complaint of discrimination or harassment, it does not mean that an employer will actually adhere to the law. If an employer does terminate an employee after a complaint of discrimination or harassment, there could be an additional cause of action for retaliation, but that does not help an employee who is forced to look for another job. Which leads me to my next deterrent: the lack of viable job options for victims of sexual harassment.
Lack of Viable Job Options— For most victims of sexual harassment, particularly in rural and remote areas all over the country, it is extremely difficult to find another job that is similar in pay and responsibilities as the one held before being retaliated against by an employer. Often times, a position at their former employer may be the only job that pays a suitable living wage within a few hours drive of their home. On many occasions, this leads to a silencing of misconduct perpetrated by the employer.
Victim Blaming— This has unfortunately become a common occurrence in American culture when someone accuses another of workplace sexual harassment. Victims are typically shunned because of the clothes they chose to wear, their physical appearance, or even their sexual orientation. Each of these factors should have no influence on determining the veracity of a sexual harassment claim, yet they are constantly repeated and subject victims to even more emotional distress than they had previously endured.
Exhaustive Nature of Litigation— Contrary to what you may see on T.V., litigation is not easy and is often emotionally draining for even the most stoic of people. Probably the most trying part of litigation for victims of sexual harassment is being forced to relive the facts and circumstances that led to the filing of the suit in the first place. Coupling this with the fact that many cases will be in court for quite some time prior to reaching a resolution, many people understandably would rather move on entirely from what transpired.
Despite the deterrents, it is imperative for every person who has been subjected to employer misconduct to come forward and tell their story. While the person who initially reports the misconduct will inevitably be subject to additional emotional struggles, they could potentially stop employees that come after them from falling victim to the same misconduct. That is where the #MeToo movement is most influential and that is how we can bring about societal change.