Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Conflict Management Strategies for the Equal Opportunity Difficult Person in the Sexually Harassing Workplace

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Conflict Management Strategies for the Equal Opportunity Difficult Person in the Sexually Harassing Workplace

Article excerpt

On a warm Saturday evening in September 1991, hundreds of military aviators, fresh from their victory in the Persian Gulf War, were celebrating at the Las Vegas Hilton. It was the 35th annual convention of the Tailhook Association, a private group of retired and active-duty naval aviators whose parties are well know for their raucous behavior. The Navy paid more than $190,000 to fly 1,500 officers to the Nevada city aboard military aircraft.(1)

The events that occurred on the subsequent three nights were to become the hear of the military's biggest sexual harassment scandal. The sordid events have com to symbolize the "Top Gun" mentality that not only engages in such lewdness, bu even condones it as nothing extraordinary. These activities are particularly ironic since they took place just weeks prior to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the sexual harassment allegations Professor Anita Hill lodged against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

In both instances, it has become evident that sexual harassment situations are fraught with pitfalls and that the truth can be elusive as claims and counterclaims compete for credibility. Employers must elicit details, attempt t verify them through corroborating witnesses and documentation, assess the facts and credibility of those involved, and make decisions on how best to resolve these most difficult conflict situations. The conflict that occurs as a result of sexual harassment allegations is particularly hazardous to manage in our litigious society since everyone involved has fights and frequently these right conflict with each other.(2)

Sexual Harassment

During the late 1960's, the alliance of liberal politics and tolerant sexual attitudes began to weaken. Major writers of the women's movement began to argue that sex, which the sexual revolution had presented as an activity to be enjoye by men and women alike, was more often an arena in which dramas of oppression against women--from harassment to spouse abuse--were played out.(3) Feminists developed the label "sexual harassment" to describe certain behaviors of men toward women and the consequences of that behavior. The consequences are that women both as individuals and as groups are humiliated by being treated as objects often, but not always as sexual objects, but always as objects for the use of men. Furthermore, stereotypical expectations that women are passive and unable to defend themselves may lead some men to think that they, as Georgie Porgie in the nursery rhyme, can sexually harass women as long as there are no other men around to stop them.(4)

According to EEOC guidelines, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

* Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly as a condition of an individual's employment;

* Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting that person;

* Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

Although this definition is gender neutral, the victim of sexual harassment is far more likely to be female than male. For example, a survey of charges filed with the Illinois EEOC found that ninety-four percent of those filing sexual harassment charges were women.(5)

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 made sexual harassment a matter of federal law. Th legislation provided additional remedies for intentional discrimination and unlawful harassment in the workplace by permitting the complaining party to recover both compensatory and punitive damages (in addition to any relief permitted by the Civil Rights Act of 1964) from a respondent who has engaged in unlawful intentional discrimination. Compensatory damages range from $50,000 pe complaining party to $300,000 per complaining party depending upon the number o employees in the organization. …

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