ECLECTIC RANT: Sexual Harassment -- The Weinstein Effect

Ralph E. Stone
Sunday December 17, 2017 - 12:52:00 PM

Ever since more than eighty women accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of engaging in sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape, giving rise to the #MeToo Movement, there seems to be daily reports of new accusations of sexual harassment against prominent men. The #MeToo Movement even made the cover of Time Magazine

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law, prohibits sex harassment in employment, including harassment based on sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 1604, contains the following definition of harassment under federal law: "It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency charged with enforcing these provisions. Additionally, most states have their own laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sex. 

Of course, sexual harassment is not a recent phenomenon. For example, in fiscal year 2016, the EEOC received nearly 7,000 complaints alleging sexual harassment. State agencies received thousands more. The EEOC estimates that roughly 3 out of 4 individuals who experience workplace harassment do not report it. An overwhelming majority of harassment victims are women. 

Clearly, sexual harassment should not be discounted as it has been for too long. Organizations should have procedures in place so that victims of sexual harassment feel comfortable reporting such incidents knowing that responsible action will be taken without reprisal to the victim. 

But what kind of alleged behavior should be actionable in today's understandable rage over sexual harassment? By actionable, I mean vilification in the media, forced resignation, job termination, and even legal action. Should there be a line drawn between boorish behavior and grabbing women "by the pussy,” or should we continue the zero tolerance policy we seem to be on now? Continuing the latter course of action may become, in some cases, a sort of “sexual McCarthyism.”