It seems like every day there is news of another state lawmaker forced to resign from office because of sexual harassment accusations. While sexual harassment remains one of the most crucial topics today, it appears most states do not keep records of sexual harassment claims made against public officials and employees. When the Associated Press (AP) investigated this issue, its reporters were told that states were not legally obligated to disclose this information, or that records and complaints did not exist or were not kept.
The AP filed requests with a total of 99 legislative bodies, seeking records for the past decade on sexual harassment. The AP also asked for information about financial settlements and related documentation. While the AP did receive information regarding approximately 70 complaints from about half the states in the country, it only received information from eight states when it came to sexual harassment settlements. That amount totaled $3 million, but the real numbers are much larger.
Failure of Legislatures
Certain states refused to provide information to the AP about legislators accused of sexual harassment or those who were forced to resign their offices. Because these legislatures will not reveal this information, it makes victims less likely to report incidents of sexual harassment. There is no record of how pervasive the problem is, and victims may feel that they will not be taken seriously or receive support. In fact, it is possible that coming forward will only result in retaliation and severe damage to their career. Some women serving in or working for a state legislature learn that sexual harassment is part of the culture and they are expected to put up with it.
Women Finding Their Voices
In the past year, the tides have started to turn, even if legislatures are still falling behind. More women are vocal about sexual harassment and workplace culture, including that of state legislatures. The AP reports that 25 state lawmakers have had to resign or been forced to leave since 2017 over sexual harassment. Twenty lawmakers have faced reprimands or loss of position, and there are outstanding complaints against several legislators nationwide. Women are less likely to tolerate the sorts of behavior they put up with just a few years ago.
Open Records Law
Several states told the AP that complaints and documentation regarding sexual harassment and legislators is not included under their open records law. That is true, even in situations where there has been widespread media and other reports about sexual misconduct and the legislator in question. Some legislative chambers simply ignored the AP’s request, claiming no response was needed under the state’s open records law. Until things change, there is no way of knowing the extent of the problem or how much taxpayer money has been used in settlements.
New Jersey Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Fight for Victims of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual harassment, you need the services of the experienced New Jersey sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Call us today at 215-569-1999 to schedule a free initial consultation or submit an online inquiry form. We are centrally located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and we proudly serve clients from the surrounding areas, including New Jersey.