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Sexual harassment can lead to discrimination

New York employers that fail to adequately address sexual harassment complaints could leave themselves open to gender discrimination lawsuits. In fact, one law professor says that the current sexual harassment scandal at Nike illustrates the dangers of ignoring such claims.

According to an article in The New York Times, women working at Nike have endured sexual harassment for years. Some examples of the alleged behavior include a manager writing an email about an employee's breasts, a manager boasting about having condoms in his bag and a manager calling a female employee a sexist, derogatory name. These incidents were reported to human resources, but nothing was done. This is possibly because the company felt the complaints did not rise to the high legal standard for sexual harassment.

However, not addressing "minor" or "gray area" sexual harassment claims is not only morally wrong, but it is legally dangerous, according to an associate law professor. The professor points out that a supervisor who writes about an employee's breasts or calls her a sexist name could be seen as incapable of viewing female workers as peers. Therefore, if he later denies the same woman a promotion, these "minor" sexual harassment incidents could be used as solid evidence in a gender discrimination lawsuit. For now, the revelations at Nike have led to the departure of six top executives at the company. It remains to be seen if further legal action will be pursued by the affected employees.

Employees who experience sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the workplace could have their case reviewed by an attorney familiar with employment law. An attorney could explain how to gather evidence of the behavior and help file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Source: Market Watch, "Opinion: Nike's #MeToo moment shows a better approach to tackling sexual harassment", May 4, 2018

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