Sacramento, CA (Law Firm Newswire) May 8, 2015 - The glass ceiling, a name given to the concept of the invisible barrier to advancement for and equal treatment of women due to discrimination in the workplace, has long been acknowledged in many circles, but is not often talked about.
The Ellen Pao case is noteworthy for a number of reasons, but mainly for how it highlights the tricky relationship between definitions and actual identifiable acts. There is no clear definition of what sexual harassment means when it comes to subtle actions, words or jokes that are not blatantly sexual.
The Pao sexual harassment case included many alleged inappropriate acts, including offhand jokes about sexual escapades in company emails, lewd texts, sly, almost sexual comments made at unexpected times, double standards and thinly veiled slights against her in a workplace atmosphere where sexual harassment was hard to distinguish from the overall casualness of the environment. Many of the intricacies of these claims lie in whether or not sexual harassment and gender discrimination are the same thing, or if they are even related.
“In my opinion, gender discrimination is clearly tied to sexual harassment,” says noted Sacramento, Calif. employment attorney, Deborah Barron. “One is usually present with the other and it is often difficult to separate them. Put another way, sexually harassing a female co-worker is gender discrimination, plain and simple.”
The lawsuit filed against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers is about the creation of a hostile workplace over a long period of time due to a myriad of small, yet cumulatively explosive actions of a questionable nature. The suit focuses on how one equity partner was the brunt of push-and-shove internal politics, with some in the firm suggesting she speak up and be more forceful, only for them to then say she was pushy.
These inequities are sexual harassment, but employers and workers do not seem to grasp that concept or understand it. According to a SurveyMonkey poll of 2,235 female respondents, one in three between the ages of 18 and 34 has been the victim of sexual harassment at work, and the harassment included experiencing sexist or sexually explicit comments.
“The most troubling thing the survey revealed is that 71 percent of the respondents did not report the harassment. Eighty-one percent were verbally harassed, 25 percent got harassing emails or texts and 44 percent suffered through sexual advances and unwanted touching,” reports Barron.
Equally troubling as the survey numbers is the fact that women are culturally accustomed to experiencing discrimination and harassment in today’s workplace. They are so inured to it they tend to ignore degrading remarks from co-workers. However, if they do not speak up and speak out, the harassment continues and ultimately hurts everyone.
Even minor harassment endured over a long period of time can result in the creation of a sexually hostile workplace. “This is not acceptable in any way, shape or form,” Barron points out. “I handle cases such as this regularly. If you feel you are being sexually harassed at work, feel free to call my office.”
To find out more about the laws that govern sexual harassment at work, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website.
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