Study suggests sexual harassment motivated by power not sex

With most forms of sex-related offenses, the motives are usually something other than pure physical attraction. Sexual harassment in Florida and across the country, a new study confirms, is no different. According to research conducted by scholars at the University of Maine and the University of Minnesota, sexual discrimination in the workplace is motivated not by sexual desire but by a desire for power.

Researchers concluded this based on the study which analyzed the experiences of 1,010 individuals. The subjects discussed their experiences as high school freshmen and their experiences as adults, around the age of 30. The interesting find was that it was not the feminine, vulnerable, youthful employee who was harassed the most. Rather, it was most often the less feminine woman in a supervisory role.

According to the study, female supervisors experienced workplace discrimination 73 percent more often than non-supervisors. The study also found that women in male-dominated occupations, such as the police, experienced higher rates of sexual misconduct. The reason that such behavior is more common in male-dominated professions, the scholars suggest, is that women are less likely to report it.

The authors of the study believe that these results indicate that sexual harassment in the workplace is a way for men to keep women “in their place.” Not long ago, women seldom achieved powerful positions in the workforce. Now that female executives are more common, some men are finding ways to make their stay at the top uncomfortable.

Stories shared by some of the study’s participants include a woman who was doused with water by her male colleagues whenever she would wear a white shirt, and a woman who was groped under the table by a powerful client at a business dinner.

These tactics, according to the study, are employed by men as a way to assert their dominance in the workplace. Sex often has little to do with it.

Source: Human Resources Journal, “Study Says The Lust That Drives Sexual Harassment At The Workplace Is Power Not Sex,” Aug. 30, 2012

EEOC sexual harassment victory brings fairness to the fields

When one thinks of sexual harassment, one might picture a woman in a male-dominated environment, such as the police force or fire department, being given a hard time. As a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case illustrates, however, workplace discrimination is sometimes at its worst when the workplace is in a field.

Although such cases do not usually make headlines, sexual harassment in Florida’s tomato farming industry has been a serious problem for years. Too often, the response has been non-existent. Many of the abused female workers are immigrants of limited means and are intimidated into silence by their superiors, who often threaten termination if their lewd requests aren’t granted.

This was exactly the case for two women who, just over three years ago, brought a workplace harassment complaint to the EEOC. The women claimed that their field supervisors, a father and son team, repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward them. One of the supervisors even forced one of the women to touch him inappropriately. When the women complained, they were fired. Now, three and a half years later, they have been vindicated.

The tomato grower, by whom the women and their supervisors were employed, has been ordered to pay each woman $150,000 in damages. In addition, the company must establish an anti-harassment protocol that employees can safely and effectively use to report workplace discrimination to the company. Furthermore, the grower must set up a training program through which employees nationwide will be educated on the discrimination laws enforced by the EEOC, and it must report to the EEOC regularly over the next three years concerning its management of harassment complaints.

The results of this lawsuit are great news for the women involved and their families, for the tomato industry, and for the nation as a whole.

Source: Huffington Post, “Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Fields,” Greg Asbed, July 26, 2012.

South Florida female firefighters face discrimination

A South Florida municipal fire department is under scrutiny by the EEOC for complaints of sexual harassment and discriminatory treatment brought by at least 10 employees. The filings have also prompted a visit from U.S. Department of Justice officials, who have already ordered the city to rewrite its policy on how it treats pregnant firefighters.

In one complaint, a female firefighter alleges that supervisors timed her daily bathroom visits before terminating her, yet did not subject her male colleagues to the same treatment. The complaint also alleges that the fire department’s leaders described women as second-class workers because they could get pregnant. Another complaint alleges that a firefighter lost her baby because her supervisor refused to let her go on light duty until her 2nd trimester.

Despite state and federal protections, many female firefighters are still subjected to unlawful conduct ranging from verbal abuse to physical assault. The president of the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services describes many fire departments as a throwback to the 1960s, where bias and discriminatory treatment of women is still prevalent. The association also reports that it gets inquiries about potential discriminatory treatment at least once a week from firefighters across the country.

Dealing with discrimination and unfair treatment can be devastating to any employee. In the firefighting industry, however, it can be deadly because of the teamwork required to get out of hazardous conditions. For that reason, some firefighters may hesitate to file a complaint with the EEOC, fearing retaliation from their coworkers. If you are the victim of unfair treatment in the workplace but are unsure how to proceed, an attorney can advise you on the steps you should take.

Source:, “Female firefighters in South Florida face discrimination, harassment,” Susannah Bryan, July 9, 2012