Sexual harassment underreported, dismissed in court

When people in Indiana and throughout the country take charges of sexual harassment before the legal system, those cases are often dismissed by judges. Nationwide, only 3 to 6 percent of sexual harassment cases make it to trial.

However, problems in addressing sexual harassment begin even earlier than that. It is estimated that although around 25 to 50 percent of women experience harassment in the workplace, no more than 15 percent report its occurrence. Retaliation is one of the main reasons that prevent this reporting, but many people also are discouraged by the high dismissal rate by courts.

In order to establish either sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace as a problem, a person must demonstrate that the harassment or discrimination was pervasive or severe. How these words are interpreted may vary. For example, a judge dismissed one case with the argument that since the incidents occurred over a 10-day period, even though there were 24 of them, the harassment did not go on long enough for it to be considered "pervasive." However, judges will often say that harassment occurring over a longer period of time is too infrequent to be considered pervasive. Furthermore, a 2007 case that went before the Supreme Court also established as precedent the necessity of proving intent.

While many companies provide avenues for reporting sexual harassment, their responses to employee complaints often are inadequate. Investigations might not be thorough, or more senior employees might be protected by the company. A person who is experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace or has faced retaliation, such as demotion or termination, for reporting sexual harassment might want to speak to an attorney. A lawyer might be able to offer advice on how to document the harassment and follow up at work.

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