Many people assume that sexual harassment is an aberration, that in 2008, employees rarely are subjected to such improper conduct in the workplace except in isolated cases. Well, my experience with sexual harassment cases suggests that, unfortunately, sexual harassment is alive and well in Baltimore City and County, in Howard County, in Frederick County — indeed, throughout Maryland.
Just in the past three weeks, I have been approached by women experiencing the following situations: a) a woman in Howard County working for a restaurant was subjected to coarse sexual language, hugged and kissed against her will, and then sexually assaulted by a coworker; b) a sales representative for a home improvement company in Baltimore City was stalked by a manager who repeatedly asked her on dates, used sexual language, tried to kiss her, and threatened to reduce her commissions if she failed to date him; and c) a salesperson for a retail store in Frederick was repeatedly asked out to dinner by her boss, subjected to inappropriate language and hugged and rubbed up against in a back room.
In each of these situations, when the employee complained to management, the employer either promised to take care of the situation — and then failed to take any concrete steps to make sure the problems would not continue — or terminated the complaining employee. Thus, not only have these employees been subjected to what, in all likelihood, would be considered to be sexual harassment by most courts, but they have been retaliated against for complaining to management about the alleged harassment.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that even today, in 2008, many employers do not know how to effectively follow their own sexual harassment policies. And that creates even bigger problems for employers, because retaliation claims are often more successful than the underlying sexual harassment complaint.