A woman holding a #MeToo sign

#MeToo has transformed the public awareness of workplace sexual misconduct in America. If you’ve been experiencing unwanted sexual treatment at your own job, you may have questions about #MeToo’s impact on the American workplace.

How to Recognize Unlawful Sexual Discrimination in the Workplace

There are two classes of laws that protect people of all genders against sexual misconduct: criminal laws against sexual assault and civil laws against harassment and discriminatory treatment.

We’ll be focusing in this article on the second group, civil laws, since most workplace harassment takes this form and many people don’t understand the applicable laws or their legal options.

It’s important to know that not all specific acts of sexual misconduct are illegal. Sexual harassment lawyers will tell you that a good way to think about which behaviors are against the law is to think about them in terms of their economic impact on you. At Shegerian & Associates we have a dedicated page on sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but here are some broad guidelines for recognizing unlawful conduct:

  • Were you fired, demoted, or passed over for a promotion or a new job offer on the basis of your sex?
  • Were you denied company benefits or given reduced benefits because of your sex?
  • Were you coerced into sexual acts either under threat of punishment or as a condition to career advancement?
  • Were you prevented from doing your job effectively due to sexual harassment or workplace hostility toward you on the basis of your sex?
  • Were you subject to repeated, intrusive, hurtful remarks on the basis of your sex?
  • Did any of the above things happen to your coworkers?

The above situations are where sexual harassment laws are strongest. To put it another way, if the harassment you are facing is costing you (or the company) money in some fashion, it’s more likely to be illegal. There are plenty of exceptions, however, so it’s a good idea to consult with a sexual harassment lawyer to discuss your specific situation.

A Tragedy as Old as Civilization

The abuses now being brought to light by #MeToo are hardly new. Sexual discrimination, harassment, and exploitation are an old problem just taking on a new face. Women, along with sexual minorities and sometimes men, have always been subjected to sexual abuses by people with economic power over them.

Even today, there are companies and whole industries that have a toxic, dismissive attitude toward female workers. It exists at all levels of the economy, from Wall Street financial titans to mom and pop diners in the Midwest. The whole point of sexism is that a woman can be mistreated for no other reason than that she’s a woman. She can do everything right—she can have personal wealth, a good education, powerful connections, good behavior, a highly respected job—and still find herself the victim of catcalls, groping, lewd “jokes,” missed promotions, unequal pay, and worse.

Women who aren’t at the top of the economic ladder have it even worse. Women who are poor, undereducated, foreign-born, nonwhite, disabled, or who are otherwise socially disadvantaged are at even greater risk for sexual discrimination. They often don’t know that many forms of sexual misconduct they are facing is against the law, or that there are sexual harassment lawyers who can help them.

Listening to Women’s Stories

Sexual misconduct in the workplace isn’t going away because businesses don’t listen when women report these abuses. Supervisors and HR departments routinely sweep complaints under the rug, bog them down in red tape, or even threaten or punish the victims.

What #MeToo has succeeded in doing is to draw national attention to this ugly part of the workplace. #MeToo, first and foremost, is a movement based on building awareness: No, you’re not alone. Sexual harassment is everywhere. Yes, men usually get away with it. And reporting it often does backfire on women.

We’re at a historic moment. For the first time in history, society (or at least parts of society) is listening to women’s testimonies about this fundamental social imbalance between the sexes. Up until now, the misconduct against women was never seen as anything more than a “social issue” that barely merited political action. But with #MeToo, the dam has finally burst. Sexual harassment lawyers are bringing cases. The news media are reporting on abuses. Companies are changing their policies.

The collective voices of women (and those who support women) have exposed sexual harassment and assault at the highest levels of industry and government. And it is causing changes to our society.

Bringing Employer Misconduct to Light

#MeToo has specifically focused on sexual misconduct in working relationships. As sexual harassment lawyers and women themselves will tell you, the workplace is a prime breeding ground for these abuses to occur. A woman’s job is something she needs, either to support herself or her family or to advance her career. Walking away would be disastrous. That’s why so many women feel compelled to put up with denigrating and even violent behavior against them in the workplace.

Now that #MeToo is bringing these abuses to light, the reality of it has rightfully horrified the public. One after another, powerful men who abused that power have been falling to the collective outrage of the nation.

On the other hand, it’s a mistake to think that these problems only happen at the hands of men at the top of the totem pole. Sexual harassment lawyers and sex abuse researchers point out that one of the most humiliating aspects of sexual harassment is that it doesn’t just come from supervisors and executives, but from peers and even from subordinates. Women are routinely exposed to harassment from anywhere, including from junior people whom they nominally have power over.

When a woman becomes the target of sexual discrimination by one of her subordinates, and the company still does nothing to put a stop to the misconduct, it is an especially saddening and infuriating reminder that society operates on a dual set of rules, where women are simply not valued as highly or taken as seriously as men are. A woman may have a high position on paper, but in practice, she often finds herself at the mercy of any man around her. This is a problem that #MeToo can’t directly stop, but bringing these injustices to light is the first step to solving them.

Changing Workplace Policies on Sexual Harassment

In the wake of #MeToo, women in all walks of life are voicing their stories of years (and sometimes generations) of mistreatment and harassment. As a result of this, many companies are realizing that their existing sexual harassment policies and training are inadequate.

Resultantly, sexual harassment lawyers have begun working with more and more companies in an effort to help them design better policies. That’s a positive development.

What these changes mean for you is that you may have noticed the announcement of new policies regarding sexual misconduct. There may be new training, new reporting channels, and new disciplinary actions. These systems may or may not work, and they can only do so much if the company culture itself doesn’t also change. We as a society cannot erase sexism overnight, but we can reshape companies to be more intolerant of sexual discrimination.

Because of #MeToo’s prominence in the news, now is a good time to act. Bring any sexual misconduct concerns you have to the attention of management, along with your concerns about reporting misconduct and the company culture regarding misconduct. If your employer is ever going to voluntarily listen to these concerns and take them seriously, it will be now, while the issue is still prominent in the news.

If you want some legal advice first, consult with a sexual harassment lawyer. It’s not hard to find a free consultation, and here at Shegerian & Associates our consultations are always free.

Changing the Laws on Sexual Harassment

As yet there has been no federal action to change our nation’s laws and regulations to make it easier for employees to report sexual misconduct.

However, at the state level, there has been more activity, including new laws in California and New York to promote sexual misconduct training and awareness on the job.

Change is also happening through the legal system. Sexual harassment lawyers, including our team at Shegerian & Associates, have been taking on more cases in this area. Projects like TIME’S UP provide legal aid and support to women who suffer from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Call Shegerian & Associates to Discuss Your Situation

At Shegerian & Associates, we have the best team of workplace sexual harassment lawyers in the business. Our founder, Carney Shegerian, has won tens of millions of dollars in sexual discrimination jury verdicts and settlements for clients. Alongside him are many other professional men and women who have the legal expertise and courtroom experience to help you.

Until recently, women were almost completely absent from the workplace as we know it, being mostly limited to domestic labor, farm labor, teaching, nursing, and sex work. It has taken us centuries to come this far. Economic opportunity is the foundation of all other freedoms. Women deserve the right to a workplace free of sexual discrimination and harassment.

Contact us today to speak to our professional sexual harassment lawyers at Shegerian & Associates. We’re happy to provide you with a free consultation to discuss your situation. We’ll explain your rights and your legal options.

Don’t be silent any longer.