In 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws, received almost 12,700 workplace sexual harassment complaints. Roughly 16 percent of those complaints were filed by men. This percentage demonstrated an increase from the approximately 15 percent of sexual harassment complaints filed by men in 2006 and the 9.9 percent of complaints filed by men in 1994. In California alone, the number of sexual harassment claims by men increased from 16.6 percent in 2007 to 26.6 percent in 2009, according to EEOC records. Experts suggest several reasons for the increase and note than men face unique challenges when filing sexual harassment lawsuits.
Depressed Economy may be Contributing to Increase
Lawyers for the EEOC suggest that a major reason for the increase in sexual harassment claims by men is the troubled economy. Discrimination claims of all kinds increase when unemployment rates are higher. As the recession began in earnest in 2008, the number of sexual harassment claims by men and women combined increased by 10.8 percent, according to the EEOC. When jobs are easier to obtain, people who are experiencing discrimination in the workplace will often just find new jobs. However, when jobs are difficult to obtain, people will more readily file harassment claims to try to resolve issues.
More men than women have suffered from job losses in the current recession, so more men are likely to bring these employment claims. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that from September 2008 to January 2010, 4.4 million men lost jobs as compared with 2.3 million women.
Men Face Unique Stigma
While more men may be filing sexual harassment claims, they face some unique challenges in bringing those suits. Cultural attitudes about traditional gender roles are still pervasive, so if a man brings a harassment suit against a female co-worker, many people may believe that the man should simply feel flattered by the female attention.
If a man brings a sexual harassment claim against another man, people may perceive the claimant as either homosexual or homophobic. People may also wonder why the claimant does not just settle the matter “like a man,” with some kind of physical altercation.
Juries are often less sympathetic to male sexual harassment victims than female victims. Male victims often get smaller damage awards from juries in sexual harassment lawsuits. Men also have to educate juries about the many different types of behavior that fall under the label of sexual harassment when the suit involves activities between men, such as bullying and horseplay.
No one, male or female, should have to tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. Everyone has the right to a workplace free from such abuse. If your workplace rights are being violated, contact an experienced employment law attorney who can advise you of your options.