NOW Takes Action against Sexual Harassment

Article excerpt

by Patricia Ireland, President, and Kim Gandy, Executive Vice President

On April 22, NOW unveiled a national initiative targeting sexual harassment as part of our Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign. That same day NOW activists demonstrated outside the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices heard arguments in the Burlington Industries v. Ellerth sexual harassment case.

In that case, Kimberly Ellerth charges that she endured a steady stream of sexual harassment from her supervisor's boss, including pats on the buttocks, offensive sexual remarks and the threat that he could make her work life "very hard or very easy." The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ellerth's right to sue, but Burlington Industries is asking the Supreme Court to reverse that decision and rule that some tangible job detriment is required. They assert that Ellerth suffered no such harm. (See "Supreme Court Answers Sexual Harassment Questions,"p.6.)

NOW Drafts Initiative

No boss should get away with making unwelcome sexual advances and threatening a woman's job status, even if he doesn't actually carry out his threats when she refuses. Sexual misconduct hurts women in the workplace; the boss who paws, propositions and warns of retaliation takes away a woman's dignity . . . even if he doesn't take away her job. He denies her respect . . . even if he doesn't deny her a promotion or a raise.

NOW's leaders and activists across the country feel strongly that we must take action in light of recent high-profile harassment cases. Women have reported to us that wide-spread news coverage of Jones v. Clinton has led some men to think they're entitled to "one free feel" and that demeaning sexual remarks are no problem under the sexual harassment law.

That is why NOW's national board developed the Initiative to Stop Sexual Harassment, a ten-point action plan targeting government and business leaders. They used to say that every dog gets one free bite, but that does not apply to men in the workplace-and we intend to make sure employers get that message loud and clear: Zero tolerance is what women have a right to expect. We will make whatever changes are necessary in the laws and regulations to make sure that those laws have teeth.

As part of our Initiative to Stop Sexual Harassment, we call on President Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, through executive orders, EEOC regulations and new laws, to make clear that sexual misconduct does not have to rise to the level of criminal rape or assault to violate Title VII's prohibition against hostile environment harassment.

And, if necessary, after the Supreme Court rules in Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, we will call on the administration to prioritize, and the Congress to pass, legislation making it illegal quid pro quo harassment even if a boss doesn't carry out threatened job consequences when a woman refuses his advances.

Jones v. Clinton

Like the trial judge in Ellerth, Federal District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright held in Jones v. Clinton that tangible job detriment is an essential element of a quid pro quo harassment claim. The evidence offered by Paula Jones' lawyers failed to convince the judge that Jones had suffered job detriment; in essence Judge Wright told Jones' lawyers they could not make a federal case out of her not receiving flowers on Secretary's Day.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Kimberly Ellerth, it may not make a difference in Paula Jones' case. Judge Wright also found that Clinton's alleged statements did not constitute a threat that clearly conditioned job benefits or detriments on compliance with sexual demands. …