Sexual Harassment Lawsuits: Even When You Win, You Lose

Reader JC left a comment on a recent post about sexual harassment that led me to a Feminist Law Professor post on a sexual harassment lawsuit against Brigham & Women's Hospital. It is a post well worth reading, if you have ever wondered why more women don't sue over sexual harassment, or why women don't just speak up immediately and complain at the first sign of harassing behavior. Maybe you have been secretly suspecting that women who file sexual harassment charges or lawsuits just have some ax to grind and/or are trying to ruin some Nice Man's career because they are bitter pre-/post-menopausal shrews and are just doing this to get sympathy. Uh huh. Well, read this, my dears, and be disabused of all your false ideas and pretty fantasies about how easy it is to file these lawsuits, and just what it means to "win" one. Here's a taste:

So even if you get a verdict like this, the amount is barely enough to cover the costs of litigation (that's definitely true here) because the impact of the attacks on your livelihood, professional reputation, etc. is minimized. You of course realize that this woman is now marked for life: she will never, never, ever, get a job offer from any other hospital in this country. So, the bonus payoff here is, she gets to work in an environment where she is ostracized, despised, feared, and hated - barred from any leadership position - and will never be taken seriously as a decision-maker or policy-maker - for the rest of her professional life. And that's because she WON!

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Thank you for posting this. I've never actually filed a lawsuit for these reasons. But I've made formal complaints. And Vanessa Merton is so right - I was a marked, trouble-making bitch from that moment onward.

I won't even mention sexual discrimination or harassment around people I work with. Just the topic alone has led people to avoid me in the past. Employers fear the publicity and cost of a lawsuit. Perpetrators quickly work to belittle and dismiss the professional abilities or mental state of their accuser. Coworkers sense that being associated with the accuser will damage them as well. I know someone here will accuse me of being a coward for not *trying* to make things better - but I have tried to make a difference, more than a few times. I simply cannot afford to sacrifice my job once again.

By stickypaws (not verified) on 02 Mar 2009 #permalink

There was a section on a training course I did once that was supposed to deal with sexual harrassment. The _only_ thing the instructor, and all the men on the course, wanted to talk about was how to avoid being "falsely accused". Leave your office door open, that kind of thing. No mention of which behaviours constitute harrassment, or what to do if you suspect a colleague of harrassing students, or anything. To their minds, harrassment didn't even exist except as a thing of which crazy wimmins might suddenly accuse you, against which men need to be able to defend themselves.

I was somewhat pissed off, and said so, but nobody paid much attention.

Thank you for posting this. I am a woman who filed a sexual haressment suit. Its been about two years now, and I still cry everyday. At times I fall into deep depression. I loved my job, but now I.....The fight that one takes on when filing a sexual harrasment suit can not be put into words. All because one refuses to be disrespect and demands justice. My life has been stolen from me. I dont recognise it. But this article lets me know, Im not alone or even crazy about how I am feeling. No amount of money in the world can replace the life that was stolen from me. I dont want a new one with money. I want the one I had befor. Living check to check,happy and whole. Not Broken

Justice, I cried for a while too. The stigma of "telling on him" will follow you, not the asshole. He's happily claiming everything was a big misunderstanding. Fuck him.
You're not crazy. I was told I was crazy too. I was told I was alone, stupid, a fucked-up bitch who should mind her own business, you know the demonization drill.
Own the anger. When someone asks, say "Yes, he's a fucking asshole and I reported him." Do whatever you need to do to find what makes you happy. The happy moments will slowly outnumber the shitty moments.
Most of all, take care of yourself!!!

I am going thru this right now. My boss has sent text messages, emails and called my personal cell phone. I have all the documents to prove my case. I went to the head of the company and made a formal complaint. I am now having to deal with seeing him everyday. He will not speak. We work in a enviroment where we have to talk to each other. He had told others that he was doing me a favor, he had went to bat for me, I should be flattered. No one stops to talk to me anymore because of this. I don't sleep, bearly eat and it is taking over my life. I went to a councelor that deals with these cases (actually taught the class at my work place) and she feels I have a case. I have contacted a lawyer to review my documentation. I am so scared. Should I even persue this? I am actively looking for a new place to work. What do I do? Let him get away with it? He is making me so miserable I don't even want to go to work. What dod I do?

I know exactly what all of you feel. I filed a lawsuit. Even my lawyer accused me of provoking my ex boss. I lost 7 months of my life. I was so scared, depressed I could not go back to work. My finances went to ruins. So suffered my children. I now have an open case, where I cannot prove all that happened. If I lose, I have already won, for having the courage to speak up. For moving on & finding a better job, where woman are respected.I still cry when I read these types of things.No one understands unless they go through it,the extent of humiliation that is felt. Not every woman out there wants to "sleep around". do believe some have honest hearts.

I am going through a situation myself, I have spoke up and filed a grievance. The company continues to ruin my life. However my attorney reassures me that in the end it will be in my best interest. I have been out of work for the entire month due to this and because of the loss of income I am financially sinking. All I can do is keep my head up and my best foot forward and hope it all works out in the end...

By Mary Bryer (not verified) on 30 Sep 2009 #permalink

I know what you women are going through.this happened to my girlfriend. she was afraid to tell me because of what i would do to this guy. but she was fed up one day and told me what had happened. She is now speaking to an attorney. so you all keep your heads up and dont let no one put you down. GET LEGAL ADVICE

I know exactly what women feel when violated by the person they have entrusted their future to. My boss openly harassed me for nearly three years. He made my life a living hell. I made the mistake of giving into his wishes in order to keep my job. At this time my husband was out of work and we were in the process of building a new home and had two very young sons. Bad mistake on my part!! He immediately starting threatening to tell my husband and fire me if i stopped sleeping with him. He told everyone on the job that i was his lover and that they should not ever talk to me. My work environment became horrible daily. I was receiving threatening letters from co workers and my work was always sabatoged or questioned. My boss eventually called my husband and told him lots of things about our sexaul encounters. He also went through my company and personal cell phone and called friends of mine and discussed dirty details. When i tried to find other emplyment, he threated to "spill his guts" to any new employers and would often makes jokes about how "OJ" got off for killing his wife. I lost nearly $50,000 of my yearly income and my husband. Really considering filing charges, I have nothing else to lose at this point. I did manage to save approx 400 text messages highlighting his request for sexual favors or being terminated. I even have the text messages he sent to my son asking about my relationship with my spouse. I constantly told my immediate supervisor but nothing happend because they are very close.