Earlier this month, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes alleging that he sexually harassed her and that her employment was terminated because she refused to have sex with him.
Since the suit was filed several other female employees, including superstar anchor Megyn Kelly, have allegedly corroborated claims of Ailes' sexual harassment. After twenty years of running Fox News, Ailes resigned last week seemingly under pressure from the network's owners to do so.
While this case is attracting a lot of attention because of the high-profile people involved, it underscores some issues that are common in sexual harassment claims.
It was not until after Carlson filed her lawsuit, and the claims became known, that other women allegedly came forward with similar stories about Ailes' harassment. The importance of the public filing cannot be emphasized enough. Had Ms. Carlson not filed a lawsuit, which is generally available to the public, her claims of harassment would not have been known to others and, as a result, potentially would not have been corroborated. Importantly, had she not pursued her claims, Ailes probably would have continued to harass with impunity. To her credit, Ms. Carlson's bravery in pursuing her claims also appears to have emboldened other women to come forward despite their unwillingness to do so earlier. Whether those female employees delayed coming forward because of embarrassment, fear of retaliation, or fear of not being believed, they appear to have found solace in the fact that they would not be standing alone.
Victims Should Not Delay
Ms. Carlson and other women who came forward with claims of harassment often described acts that happened years earlier. Why did it take so long for these women to come forward? Why would they put up with something like this for so long?
The answer is not only a complex one but it is also rather individualized for many people. Some of the reasons are deeply rooted in the psychological underpinnings of the victims of the harassment but the most often recited reasons for failing to timely complain is
- fear of losing their jobs or suffering other adverse job actions like being demoted or having their salary decreased,
- fear of being isolated or alienated,
- generalized anxiety,
- distress over not being believed,
- concern about ruining the harasser's life, or even
- hope that ignoring the situation will make it go away.
While discussing harassment can be scary, difficult, and embarrassing, victims of harassment need to keep in mind that harassment often will not stop unless it is addressed. To that end, the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), which enables victims to sue for the workplace harassment to which they have been subjected, has strict deadlines for filing such lawsuits. The case law interpreting the LAD also may impose certain other obligations upon harassed employees prior to filing suit. If that deadline is missed, harassed employees may have forever waived (given up) their right to sue for the harassment to which they have been subjected. Similarly, if harassed employees fail to take those preliminary steps, they may be prohibited from pursing their claim in court. Employees should know, however, that the LAD protects employees who pursue claims of sexual harassment from retaliation.
If you are being sexually harassed at work, you should immediately talk to an experienced employment attorney, like Chris or Claudia at Lenzo & Reis, LLC.