Magazine article Techniques

Confronting a Growing Problem

Magazine article Techniques

Confronting a Growing Problem

Article excerpt

Workplace sexual harassment lawsuits are one gauge of the situation in the workplace. And by that measure, the problem is a major one, and growing. Last year 15,342 cases were logged, more than double the number in 1990. Although more men are filing such suits now, women were the plaintiffs in 90 percent of the suits filed in 1996.

Since 1990, monetary settlements reached through the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) have risen by more than 300 percent-from $7.7 million to $27 million.

By yet another measure, Training magazine says 70 percent of companies it surveyed offer instruction on sexual harassment, which is the mostrequested topic on the training circuit.

Says a woman electrical worker in Kentucky, "I have been in the electrical industry for 13 years and received my training as an apprentice. I now am a part-time apprenticeship instructor. I see hostility as a given for women in male-dominated industries. I am not shocked by stories such as Tailhook and Mitsubishi. I once worked with an older journeyman who...grabbed my breast, [but] I would categorize most of my unpleasant experiences as unequal opportunities to learn or resentment from coworkers and supervisors.

"I think some of the people who help create these hostile work environments would change if they could truly see themselves and what their actions mean."

Johnette Mends-Cole, a sex equity coordinator in Kentucky, believes it is imperative that women be made aware of obstacles they may encounter on the job when they work in nontraditional occupations. "The women I work with say they never anticipated so much hostility on the job, that fellow employees appear shocked and jealous when they do a good job and that they feel like their male coworkers are sitting around waiting for them to fail or crack under pressure," says Mends-Cole.

Taking it to court

These descriptions of incidents that became major, attention-getting lawsuits filed in the 1990s illustrate the depth and breadth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace:

Lois Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards.

Robinson had been a welder for four years and was one of six female skilled craftworkers among 846 men in 1986. She had been promoted to first-class welder by 1991, the year she sued, claiming her male coworkers plastered her work environment with "pictures of women in various stages of undress" and made demeaning remarks about women, such as "women are only fit company for something that howls. …

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