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EEOC continues to prioritize combating harassment

This past week the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the filing of seven lawsuits alleging unlawful harassment and also the settlement of a harassment case.  Two of the lawsuits that the EEOC filed and the one that it settled allege harassment against a class of employees.  In the case that settled, the EEOC secured $3.5 million for the victims and will require the employer to provide training to its employees, revamp its policies, and the EEOC will monitor the employer for a period of three years.

“Workplace harassment causes serious harm to women and men in all kinds of jobs across the country,” said EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic. “These lawsuits allege harassment based on race, national origin and sex and involve workers at country clubs and cleaners, sports bars and airlines, in health care and grocery stores. When employers fail to protect their employees from harassment, the EEOC may bring legal action to stop the harassment and prevent future harm.”

The seven lawsuits involve not only sexual harassment but also racial harassment, harassment based on national origin, and retaliatory harassment.  Retaliatory harassment is a common occurrence and is one major reason why harassment victims often choose not to complain about harassment.

The EEOC’s efforts to combat harassment reflect the reality that harassment continues to be an epidemic in the workplace.  About one-quarter of the lawsuits that the EEOC has filed in recent years included allegations of workplace harassment and about one-third of the 80,000 to 90,000 charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC each year include allegations of harassment.  These charges of discrimination are just the tip of the iceberg.  More than 80 percent of harassment victims never file a formal complaint and three-quarters of them never even mention the harassment to their employers.

While all harassment is bad, the law only prohibits certain types of harassment that is based on certain protected traits, such as sexual harassment and racial harassment.  If you are unsure whether the harassment you have experienced is unlawful, you can consult resources on the websites of the EEOC or the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) (see Section 10 of MHRC’s employment regulations).  The attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group may also be able to help you.

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