A bill that its House author said would extend sexual harassment
protections to employees of very small businesses was defeated in
the House on Monday.
Senate Bill 1594, by Sen. Brad Henry, D-
Shawnee, and Rep. Opio Toure, D-OKC, faced stiff opposition from The
State Chamber, which sent out an alert asking its members to
encourage lawmakers to vote against the bill.
It would declare
that prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment in all its
forms is the public policy of Oklahoma.
The bill failed 43-55.
Toure held it on reconsideration, which gives him three days in
which to try to convince at least eight of his colleagues to vote
for it when he brings it up for a vote again.
The problem, said
Toure, is that sexual harassment cases are governed by federal law
that applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees, and state
courts follow that law in their decisions. Toure's amended version
of the legislation specifically covered only businesses with 14 or
fewer employees, and limited damages to no more than
Toure said that the measure would cover both "quid pro
quo" harassment, in which continued employment is based upon
coercion to engage in sexual activity, and "hostile workplace"
harassment, which involves offensive remarks or behavior tolerated
According to business data from the State
Department of Commerce, about 87 percent of Oklahoma businesses have
19 or fewer employees. Close to 75 percent have 10 or fewer
Chamber Vice President Mike Seney said that the bill
would primarily expand what is already protected by federal
"It's an attack against the employment-at-will doctrine in
this state," he added.
Seney said that approval of the bill could
also harm Oklahoma economically.
"We would become much more
noncompetitive with other states," he said. "It opens a lot of small
businesses for legal harassment."
Rep. Leonard Sullivan, R-OKC,
echoed this argument in his discussion of the bill on the House
floor. He said it could persuade some new business prospects to go
Toure questioned whether Oklahoma wants to attract
businesses that would base their location decision on the presence
or lack of a sexual harassment law.
"I don't think we want that
company in Oklahoma," he said.
Rep. Hopper Smith, R-Tulsa,
debated against the bill.
"This is just another bad trial
attorney bill," he said, urging members to vote it down.
"This bill is simply a make-work bill for trial lawyers,"
he said. "It's harassing small companies out of business."
Bill Graves, R-OKC, said that sexual harassment is not defined in
the bill, and said it should be clarified statutorily rather than
relying upon case law. …