By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
The recent avalanche of sexual harassment complaints against powerful men, in politics, industry, and the media, has focused widespread public attention on the plight of so many women in the workplace and society. The #MeToo movement has empowered scores of past sexual harassment victims to share their experiences, whether recent or in the distant past, and be truly heard. It feels like we have reached a cultural “tipping point,” where this kind of conduct should no longer be tolerated, in any form. The workplace of tomorrow has a chance to evolve toward true equal opportunities for women if this momentum builds.
Creating a New Cultural Awareness with #Metoo
Those who advocate for women in the workplace, and those who support rooting out all forms of sexual harassment, need to be strategic at this stage. We need to transform this new cultural awareness into concrete changes to the law, both in terms of statutory protections and how these laws are applied by judges and arbitrators. If we don’t, this apparent “tipping point” could dissipate and be remembered as a lost opportunity.
My colleague, Jean Boler, recently wrote an Op-Ed article in the Star Tribune, published on November 21, 2017, which describes the dissonance between this current rising cultural awareness and the past legal hurdles male judge have established which deny trial to women who allege what any reasonable layperson would understand to be sexual harassment. These hurdles need to be the targets of change for the #MeToo movement to realize its potential.
Courts Need to be on Board
Federal, state and municipal laws penalizing sexual harassment have to be amended to reverse legal precedent which interpret the hostile environment “severe or pervasive” standard to excuse “isolated” instances of sexual conduct or overt sexual advances. The law needs to embody a “zero tolerance” standard, so that even a single incident of unwelcome sexual or discriminatory behavior, if substantiated, demands relief. Without these changes, our legal system will continue to condone behavior tolerated for far too long.
We need to simultaneously press for judicial vacancies at every level to be filled by qualified women, who are available but too often passed over. Parity in gender representation should be a measuring stick applied to courts, and systems of arbitration, at every level. I’ve so often heard in the recent groundswell of support for victims of harassment that “sexual harassment isn’t a partisan issue.” If this is to be true, politicians of both parties need to work for real change, or they need to be replaced.
The advocates at Schaefer Halleen will continue to work for this change, one client at a time in the legal system, and with others in this growing movement to push for legislative change. Let’s commit together to do far more than just raise awareness.
Lawrence P. Schaefer has earned the respect of judges and other lawyers for his thorough and aggressive client advocacy in negotiation and litigation. He focuses exclusively on representing people who have been subject to employment discrimination at work. Larry serves as the firm’s President and head of litigation.