So far this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed 41 suits alleging sexual harassment which amounts to a more than 50% year-over-year increase in sexual harassment specific suits compared to fiscal year 2017 figures. Also, sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC increased by more than 12% year-over-year, with reasonable cause findings and successful conciliations up from 2017. The agency has recovered $70 million total for employees alleging sexual harassment, up from $47.5 million last year. These are sizable increases.
What can be attributed to the increase in sexual harassment cases? According to Barry Hartstein, attorney and co-chair of Littler Mendelson’s EEO & diversity practice, “the increased numbers can signal two things: 1) employees are “more emboldened” to report harassment; and 2) EEOC committed to put an emphasis on sexual harassment litigation.” Recent media on the #MeToo movement has also played a part on the increasing numbers of cases. The Harvey Weinstein allegations was the spark that ignited mass awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Acting Chair, Victoria A. Lipnic stated, “I am so proud of the EEOC staff who stepped up to the heightened demand of the #MeToo movement to make clear that workplace harassment is not only unlawful, it is simply not acceptable.” The EEOC is continuing to work hard on this issue. In 2015, the EEOC formed a task force to focus on sexual harassment which resulted in the need for more general civility training, the role of bystanders in sexual harassment intervention, and the job of front-line managers in responding to the issue. Lipnic said the task force was formed because “we were so struck by the persistence and pervasiveness of this issue in so many workplaces” despite years of corporate training programs and awareness of the issue.
There is still more work to be done.