History of Harassment in the Workplace - Responsibilities of Employers and Employees

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The History of Harassment in the Workplace:
The Responsibilities of Employers and Employees

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the year 2010 had the highest number of discrimination charges ever. Statistics that were released in early January 2011 from the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) showed that the federal agency filed a record number of discrimination charges on behalf of United States employees. There was an overall increase of 7.1 percent over 2009. The increases were mostly due to a rise in retaliation charges, disability discrimination charges, and racial discrimination charges. Not only were these charges on the rise, but 2010 also seemed to have found courts increasingly willing to allow class action lawsuits against employers, with the most noted one being the Dukes vs. Wal-Mart case. The class action suit is seeking restitution for millions of both current and former Wal-Mart employees who may have suffered alleged gender discrimination.

Although the total numbers of all discrimination charges have steadily increased over the years, one specific type of charge has decreased. The charges of sexual harassment discrimination have dropped, however, there is surprising data showing that of the total, the percentage being reported by males has risen. In 2010, the total number of sexual harassment reported to the EEOC was 11, 717, compared to 2000, where it was 15, 836. Of the 11, 717 charges, 16.4 percent were filed by males, whereas in 2000, only 13.6 percent were filed by males.

These two sets of data tell us that US employers are doing a better job at preventing sexual harassment incidents, and/or have implemented more effective methods to resolve them. In addition, employers are educating more thoroughly on the topic, therefore it is better understood by all employees that sexual harassment is a non-gender based violation. It is what it is – a violation of the law.

The most well-known sexual harassment claim to date is probably the Jenson vs. Eveleth Taconite Co. case, which most non-legal people would come to know as the case that inspired the movie, “North Country.” However, as large a case this one was, in addition to a few others, it does not gain the attention that it probably should. The general public tends to attract to news in the media with names of people or companies they are familiar, such as the Wal-Mart one noted above. A sexual harassment case that gained a lot of attention was the alleged claims between Monica Lewinsky and former President Bill Clinton.

It is large cases like this that grab the attention of most people. Today, many Americans have a general idea what “discrimination” is and within that term, “sexual harassment,” but not many understand the history behind all of this. As with most things, there are usually a number of mistakes that are made before it is close to being perfect, if even. This applies to our laws as well.

Back in the 1960’s, Americans were aware of “equal protection of the laws,” but what they didn’t know was, did the Constitution’s prohibition of denying equal protection mean that there had to be a ban on the use of race, gender, or ethnicity criteria in order to enable social justice and benefits?

Civil Rights Act of 1964

In 1964, what is known as Public Law 82-352 (78 Stat. 241) was passed by Congress. This bill became better known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it was called for by President John F. Kennedy. It was indeed a landmark piece of legislation in the United States. Not only did it outlaw major forms of discrimination against blacks and women, it also brought an end to racial segregation.

The bill in its entirety is lengthy; however, the main features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that pertain to equality include the following:

* Title I barred unequal application of voter registration requirements. It is important to note, however that the Act only...
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