Labor and employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack says that while statistically harassment in the work place is decreasing, with more women entering the work place, the number of complaints is rising.
With the dismissal of the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit and her recent decision to appeal the ruling of U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, sexual harassment is once again in the news. In the Jones case, Americans have come to varying and numerous conclusions as to the guilt or innocence of Bill Clinton. But what does the law say on sexual harassment and other issues of employment discrimination? New York labor and employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack has some of the answers. He is author of the recently publisher] book, The Working Woman's Legal Survival Guide.
Insight: Why did you think it was necessary to write a book addressing women's legal issues?
Steven Sack: Well, as a practicing labor and employment lawyer with my own law firm, I have represented thousands of women in my career. There have been a slew of new laws and regulations impacting women favorably.
Looking at it as I normally do from a female's perspective, I saw there were many subjects that needed to be covered in a book of this magnitude. We have sex discrimination -- not just harassment, but failure to be promoted or paid as men are just because they are women. There also is pregnancy discrimination. Women get fired for discriminatory reasons and they don't know what to do about it. Most women who are independent consultants or sales representatives entering areas that men usually or typically have dominated don't know how to protect their businesses or themselves, so there is a separate section for that.
Insight: Do you think harassment and discrimination are as much a problem as they were 20 years ago?
SS: They are more prevalent as more and more women enter the workforce, many for the first time. Few are knowledgeable about their legal rights. Even when they know they have rights, they don't know what those rights are. And secondly, while the number of discrimination complaints and the amount of harassment might be going down statistically on a ratio basis, many more women are entering the workplace, so collectively the number of these complaints is staggering and increasing every year.
Insight: Is it a larger problem that most women say, "This is something the law can't help me with, what we really need is a change in society?"
SS: The fact that the glass ceiling exists does not mean that women should accept it. And if you notice in the introduction of my book, when I was doing my research I found that [Florida-based supermarket chain] Publix reportedly paid about $81.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by 150,000 women accusing the grocery chain of relegating them to dead-end jobs. I also discovered that State Farm reportedly had paid $215 million to settle a case for a class of women who said they were denied and deterred from positions as insurance agents.
Meanwhile, millions and millions of women are not being compensated fairly. I was interviewed on a women's radio program last week and was telling the interviewer that my studies indicate that the typical woman earns 71 cents to every dollar a man earns and [the interviewer] said, "No, it's up to 74 cents."
Knowledge is power and I want women to know that there are things they can do. For example, what do you do if you are not given a favorable performance review? Women of color, women over 40, can file a discrimination lawsuit with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] if they feel they are being discriminated against on the basis of their sex or age. Companies know this -- so they are not just going to fire you, they are going to set you up, they are going to create a paper trail.
So what would a sharp woman do to level the playing field? …