A noted expert and author on workplace law, Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp was quoted several times in an article in the Sunday, September 15, issue of the Sacramento Bee. The article described a law suit filed by two former Sacramento county employees against the county alleging sexual harassment by their former supervisor. Apparently, Sacramento county, through its attorneys, strongly denies the allegations of the two women.
“In order to put the suit in perspective, I was asked by a reporter for the Sacramento Bee to address general national trends in sexual harassment including: its prevalence; whether it has gotten worse or better over time; how much employers pay out in settlement money; and how much employers spend on training employees on how to comply with the law,” said Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp “My response was that the picture is ambiguous.”
Why ambiguous? According to Professor Bisom-Rapp, it is difficult to get a "big picture" perspective on how many potential sexual harassment claims there could be nationwide.
“While overall, there has been a decline in total charges of sexual harassment filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the state agencies with which the EEOC has work sharing agreements, we cannot conclude that this means there is less sexual harassment occurring in the workplace,” she noted. “There may instead be a number of things going on.”
“First,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp, “employers, in order to be able to defend against suits, have created anti-harassment policies and internal complaint procedures that may resolve cases quietly and out of view of the public. Second, when those internal processes fail to resolve matters, many employers require employees to use private dispute resolution mechanisms, like arbitration or mediation. There is therefore no filing with a government agency or court and the public never learns about these cases.
“Third, many cases settle and settlements frequently have confidentiality provisions that preclude the parties from talking about the facts of a given claim. Fourth, some employees fear retaliation and lodge no complaint at all, especially in a tough job market. They will either put up with conduct or quietly leave and attempt to find replacement employment.”
“All these factors,” she noted, “make it very hard to determine how prevalent and costly sexual harassment is in American society. We hear about the extraordinary cases because the media reports on those, but whether those cases are representative of what others experience is far from clear."