Source: BOXOFFICE, March 2003
AVOIDING WORKPLACE LITIGATION
- Part III -
By David J. Bowman, Human Resources Expert
In my previous two essays for Boxoffice, I discussed how to avoid Workplace
Violence litigation in theaters. Here, I'll discuss how to avoid another
problem that can involve enormous consequential damage awards for theater
owners: Sexual Harassment in the workplace.
The U.S. Supreme Court has set very specific ground rules about workplace
Sexual Harassment prevention. It's now the law that all employers are
liable for such acts - even if management didn't know about the incidents,
or if victims didn't complain, or even if there were no adverse effects
The Court has said that employers are liable for such harassment, unless
they have "exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly
any sexually harassing behavior" and unless the victim "unreasonably
failed to take advantage of any protective or corrective opportunities."
Legal experts agree that this means every employer - to include every
theater owner - must 1) develop a strict harassment prevention policy
which is communicated effectively and often, 2) have a victim complaint
procedure in place, and 3) offer on-going prevention training for all
employees, from the top down. Additionally, harassed employees must be
assured that supporting witnesses and documents can be presented without
recourse, that investigation conclusions are accessible and that an appeal
can be lodged without going outside the organization. Without these safeguards,
theater owners, as well as managers/supervisors can sustain huge personal
financial damages if sexually abusive behavior occurs and the victims
Employee-to-employee Sexual Harassment has been a troublesome issue in
the entertainment industry for many years. However, theater environments
can have a double-edged sword - they can experience it in two ways: employee-to-employee
and patron-to-employee. Owners often try to hire pleasant, appealing employees
to enhance the theater-going experience. But often, it is these exact
employees that are the targets for Sexual Harassment - from co-workers
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) defines Sexual Harassment
as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal
or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an individual's
work performance, or creates a hostile, intimidating work environment.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Sexual Harassment is a form of discrimination,
and thus is a part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In addition,
Congress has amended the Act to allow plaintiffs jury trials in federal
court, as well as punitive damages.
So, harassment in the workplace must stop, or there may be substantial
financial consequences for employers. Also, depending on the circumstances,
harassers now can be sued, as can their supervisors who don't respond
to reports of harassment.
For example, in addition to many well-known cases in the entertainment
industry, consider the extremely costly Mitsubishi Motors case. Here,
350 women and the EEOC sued Mitsubishi because of co-workers' alleged
offensive sexual remarks and actions. They were awarded $34 million. In
another important case involving the Life Insurance division of CNA, the
two most senior officers in the division were forced to resign because
of complaints from two women about sexual remarks - complaints that received
no response from management. Recently, Ralphs Supermarkets, a division
of the Kroger Company, settled a case for nearly $9 million in which a
supervisor harassed a series of women, but the company merely continued
to transfer the harasser to different stores.
Theater owners often say, "It can't happen here, so why bother with
prevention." In fact, the National Organization for Woman found that
80% of women surveyed in a wide variety of industries had been sexually
harassed. The EEOC now handles some 5,000 new sexual harassment cases
annually, double the caseload of only a few years ago. So, "it can
happen here and probably will!"
Of course, Sexual Harassment often is considered a perception issue. What
one person thinks is a compliment, another feels is abusive and perceives
as creating a "hostile environment," one of the legal definitions
of Sexual Harassment. A study at a Missouri University indicated that
95% of women were offended by suggestive comments, staring and/or flirting,
while 46% of men thought women would be flattered by the attention. The
same study showed that 67% of men would be flattered if asked to have
sex with a female co-worker, while 83% of women would be offended. The
Supreme Court has ruled that only the victim's perception counts.
Clearly, Sexual Harassment is unacceptable behavior at work or any other
place. However, theater owners who don't implement prevention measures
are much more likely to suffer at the bottom line, as are harassers and
their supervisors. The burden of proof is on the employer to show its
innocence if a worker suffers harassment on the job. Thus, if major financial
liability is to be avoided, theater owners must 1) publish a Sexual Harassment
Prevention Policy, 2) establish a victim complaint process, and 3) conduct
an on-going employee training program (including proof of training for
a court), outlining what Sexual Harassment is and what to do when it occurs
- from either a co-worker or a patron.
Mr. Bowman is chairman of TTG Consultants/Lincolnshire, a Los Angeles
human capital consulting firm specializing in corporate and individual
change. He has written several books, audio-based training series and
articles on maximizing human potential in the workplace, and he has taught
at UCLA for more than 12 years. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Avoiding Workplace Litigation - Part I
Avoiding Workplace Litigation - Part II
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Five Best Ways to Build... And Lose... Trust in the Workforce
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The Problem of Sexual Harassment
Workplace Violence - A Real Killer!
Resolving Conflicts - Equitably
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Find out more about Dave Bowman...
Motivational and Strategic Speaker
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