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Women Working in Neurosurgery are Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment

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Earlier this year, a neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic led a study to determine the prevalence of sexual harassment among female and male neurosurgeons. The survey results from 622 respondents are startling:

  • Approximately 62 percent of respondents witnessed some form of bullying or sexual harassment in neurosurgery.
  • Eighty-eight percent of females and 44 percent of males reported having experienced such harassment.
  • Sixty-seven percent of females and males under 40 years old reported witnessing harassment, which is higher than any other age bracket.
  • Sixty-three percent of respondents aged 41 to 50 years old, 60 percent aged 51 years old 60, and 56 percent over 60 years old witnessed harassment.
  • Survey respondents identified colleagues in positions of authority as perpetrators in most harassment incidents across all age groups.
  • More than 80 percent experienced sexual harassment during training. Others experienced it during post-residency employment or while attending a national meeting or educational event.
  • Only 31 percent of respondents said they reported the harassment, whether it was witnessed or experienced. The majority noted that they feared retaliation if they reported the incidents.

These findings mirror findings from a 2018 study conducted by Pew Research on sexual harassment among the general population. This study found that 59 percent of women and 27 percent of men experienced sexual harassment in or out of the workplace. Only 55 percent of women reported the sexual harassment in the workplace.

Is Sexual Harassment Illegal?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex or gender discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act protects employees from discrimination in the workplace as well. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including the federal government, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations. Title VII and workplace sexual harassment are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

In a hostile work environment, the harasser exhibits any of the following behaviors:

  • Unwelcomed sexually suggestive comments
  • Demeaning comments
  • Repeated or unwelcomed requests for dates
  • Offensive gestures
  • Offensive touching
  • Sexually suggestive jokes or pranks
  • Sexually intimidating behaviors
  • Distribution or showing of pornographic materials

In a hostile work environment claim, the following must be proven to be true:

  • The behavior is directed at the person specifically because of their gender.
  • The offenses are severe or pervasive enough that they affect an employee’s ability to do their job, or the level of harassment is so severe that even one incident can affect the employee’s ability to do their job.
  • The employer is responsible for or allows the harassment, either directly or indirectly, including sexual harassment by other employees, customers, clients, vendors, and other third parties.

A hostile environment can also occur if the employer provides less favorable conditions of employment to an employee based on their gender, such as unfair hiring procedures, promotions, pay, and other factors.

What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Quid pro quo is the second type of workplace sexual harassment. Quid pro quo occurs when a supervisor or other manager asks for or demands sexual contact in return for employment benefits or promotions. Even if the employee did not voice their objection, it can still be considered sexual harassment if the worker felt pressured to have the sexual contact, was embarrassed, or was afraid of losing their job or being punished.

In these situations, gender does not have to be the only reason a person was the target of such behavior, but it must be a large part of the reason for a quid pro quo harassment claim. The following conditions constitute sexual harassment:

  • Victim and harasser may be a woman or a man.
  • Victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • Harasser can be the victim’s supervisor or another superior, co-worker, an agent of the employer, or a customer.
  • Victim could be anyone that was made uncomfortable by a behavior.

What are Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, visual, written, or physical. The following are examples from sexual harassment cases handled by a lawyer:

  • Brushing up against a person, but pretending it was an accident.
  • Touching, caressing, or rubbing a person’s clothing or body inappropriately.
  • Asking for dates or sexual encounters repeatedly after the victim has declined, pressuring a person for sex or dates.
  • Threatening a person if they do not comply with sexual requests.
  • Making comments of a sexual nature about the way the person is dressed or looks.
  • Sending lewd or suggestive emails, texts, or other communications.
  • Displaying gestures, facial expressions or other bodily movements that are of a sexual nature.
  • Sexual innuendo.
  • Following someone around, stalking them, or paying them excessive attention.
  • Sharing rumors about someone’s sex life or sexual favors to get ahead.
  • Raping or other forms of sexual assault.

This is not an exhaustive list. Consult a lawyer if one is uncertain about what is considered workplace sexual harassment.

What Steps Should I Take After Workplace Sexual Harassment?

It is important for anyone who believes they have been sexually harassed in the workplace to stop the harassment and bring the harassment to light. While it may feel uncomfortable, frightening, or embarrassing, doing so can help prevent future harassment victims and justly punish harassers and their employers. Good steps to take include:

  • Know the company’s policy on sexual harassment. These policies generally include an employee’s rights, protections against retaliation, and the process for reporting and resolving a complaint.
  • Document the dates, times, frequency, and nature of the harassment and the harasser. Be accurate and factual.
  • Confront the harasser and tell them point-blank to stop. Reject any asks or demands of a sexual nature.
  • Report the behavior to company authorities and those with decision-making powers. This could be the human resources (HR) department, a supervisor, a supervisor’s manager, or other authority.
  • Cooperate with the employer as they investigate the incident. Share documentation and evidence.
  • Document and follow up in writing. There should be discussions with HR, supervisors, or other company authorities about the harassment.
  • File a claim. If the employer does not respond or responds unsatisfactorily to the claim, the next step is to file a claim with the EEOC. An employee is protected from retaliation if they file with the EEOC.
  • Hire a lawyer. Having a lawyer that understands sexual harassment and other discrimination laws by one’s side from the beginning can help ensure justice and fair compensation.

Can I Recover Compensation After Workplace Sexual Harassment?

It depends on the exact nature of the case, but the lawyer of a victim of workplace sexual harassment can negotiate or fight to win the following:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses, including litigation costs and lawyer fees.
  • Financial compensation for mental distress, medical expenses, and lost wages.
  • Job reinstatement or restoration of job benefits or promotion.
  • Potential punitive damages if the court believes the employer should be punished above and beyond what is typically awarded in similar cases.

To determine what compensation is available, a victim should contact a lawyer right away.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Victims of Workplace Sexual Harassment

If you believe you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment, contact one of our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. today. The sooner we are involved, the better we can counsel you in making beneficial decisions and following appropriate legal processes. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.

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