Working for Justice

Men Can Be the Victims of Sexual Harassment Too

Posted March 15th, 2017 by in Gender Discrimination and Harassment.

On February 15, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Hidden Hawaii Tours alleging that the President of the company engaged in a pattern of sexually harassing his young employees.

Unfortunately, that’s not an uncommon scenario. The difference in this case is that the victims were men. According to the EEOC lawsuit, for more than a decade, the President of Discovering Hidden Hawaii Tours harassed his young male employees in various ways including making employment opportunities contingent on engaging in sex acts with him, showing them pornographic images, and even going so far as to perform unwanted sexual acts on the young men. When the young men complained, the company took no action.

Sexual harassment cases with male victims have long been exceedingly rare. However, in 1998 in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, the Supreme Court considered the case of a Louisiana man who claimed he was sexually harassed by his male manager while working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. In deciding Oncale, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that same-sex sexual harassment is a form of discrimination protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since then, the number of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC by males has steadily increased. According to EEOC statistics, in 1997 the percentage of sexual harassment charges filed by men was only 11.6%. By 2015, that percentage rose to 17.1%.

The EEOC defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature where this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” Both the harasser and the victim can be either male or female.

A review of EEOC press releases shows several large settlements over the past five years involving cases of sexual harassment of men. One of the largest occurred in November 2012, when Sparks Steak House, an upscale steakhouse in New York City, agreed to pay $600,00 to settle an EEOC sexual harassment case. The lawsuit alleged that a male manager had sexually harassed male waiters by making lewd comments and attempting to fondle them.

According to a recent survey, about one-third of all working men reported at least one form of sexual harassment in the previous year. However, many of those instances of male sexual harassment go unreported. Many men are reluctant to report sexual harassment, feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Some legal scholars believe the male victims of sexual harassment face a particularly difficult battle, because Title VII was created to protect vulnerable individuals, and men have not historically fallen into that category.

However, as Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC, stated in a recent press release, “All employees regardless of gender, have the right to work in a harassment-free workplace and should never be forced to endure such abuse.”

If you are being sexually harassed at work – regardless of your gender – you can get help. Sanford Heisler’s employment lawyers have extensive experience in handling sexual harassment cases and can work with you to get the relief you deserve. Sanford Heisler’s attorneys are among the best sexual harassment lawyers in Washington, DC, New York, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Christine Dunn

Christine Dunn

Christine Dunn is Senior Litigation Counsel in the Washington, DC office of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Ms. Dunn’s practice involves a range of matters including whistleblower/qui tam cases and employment discrimination actions. Learn More

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