- The operators of a defunct Illinois Harley-Davidson dealership have agreed to pay $193,750 to a former employee to settle charges brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that she was subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation.
- The employee was subjected to harassment that included "repeated propositions for sex, constant commentary on her body, including requests to wear more revealing work apparel, and sharing numerous, unwanted and graphic sexual images and videos," the agency alleged. When the worker complained, the dealership changed her work hours in a way that interfered with her childcare availability and then fired her for "fabricated reasons," according to the EEOC.
- The two-year consent decree settling the lawsuit also calls for harassment prevention policies and training in addition to periodic reporting to the EEOC on sex discrimination complaints.
The EEOC has long targeted sex harassment and discrimination. "The EEOC continues to receive thousands of claims of sexual harassment annually. Sex harassment interferes with workers' ability to succeed, as does the termination of workers who have the temerity to complain," EEOC Chicago District Director Julianne Bowman said in a statement. "The agency is determined to eradicate sex discrimination and hopes this case will serve as a warning to employers to monitor their workplaces for harassment and respond appropriately to complaints."
Still, the problem persists, waging a broad range of consequences.
Sexual harassment has long-term consequences for working women, according to 2019 research from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Researchers found that sexual misconduct impairs women's mental and physical health, reduces their job choices, limits their career development opportunities and forces them to leave the workforce. The report concluded that these negative results deflate women's lifetime earnings and foster gender and retirement wage gaps over time.
It follows that HR should take harassment complaints seriously and follow up on any reports of misconduct. HR can conduct good-faith investigations by interviewing witnesses, documenting discussions and, if evidence of harassment is discovered, putting measures into place aimed at making sure that the misconduct does not continue, Fisher Phillips Partners Pavneet Singh Uppal and Shayna Balch, both partners at Fisher Phillips LLP, told attendees at a 2018 conference.
Apart from compliance obligations under federal laws, employers should also check local and state laws for bias or harassment-prevention requirements. An increasing number of states and localities are adopting mandatory sexual harassment training laws.