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“I stand up for victims’ rights in the courtroom and at the negotiating table to achieve the best outcome for my clients. I have a deep-rooted dedication to protecting women’s rights and seeking justice for my clients. Over the last thirteen years, I have successfully guided, advised, and represented individuals in challenging legal situations. In my experience, having an attorney by your side during the administrative process that comes before filing a sexual harassment or gender discrimination lawsuit can make a substantial difference. I'm here to listen to and achieve justice for victims of sexual harassment and discrimination.”

The #MeToo movement has brought many things to light over the last year along with a lot of questions about what is considered sexual harassment and what to do about it. If you are interested in learning more about these issues, Lapin & Leichtling, LLP will be hosting a Lunch & Learn on March 19, 2019. We’ll be talking about how to recognize and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. Lunch is free and space is limited, so please RSVP if you would like to attend.

Date: March 19, 2019

Time: 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. We will be starting promptly at 12 p.m.

Location: Lapin & Leichtling, LLP, 255 Alhambra Circle, Suite 1250, Coral Gables, FL 33134. Visitor parking is available on the ground floor of the parking garage behind the building or on the street.

RSVP and Questions: AJanderson@LL-Lawfirm.com or (305) 569-4100.

New York City’s Upper East Side is in a tizzy because Nello, a local restaurant, has banned single women from eating at the bar because they might be escorts. That might sound outlandish, but the solicitation of customers by escorts seems to be an issue for some high end restaurants. I recently met with a server, we’ll call her Jane, who has worked for several local restaurants. According to Jane, she has seen escorts in action, along with restaurant managers and owners who serve as the go-between the madam and celebrities to place the escorts in strategic locations throughout the restaurant. Jane also said that one restaurant in particular makes it a point to hire hostesses who are young, beautiful, and new to Miami. Jane said she has heard the instructions from managers to the young hostesses to do whatever is necessary to make the celebrities and athletes happy, including going on dates. Jane says she has seen several of these young women leave the hostess position and go on to become escorts or date the celebrities they encounter at the restaurant. Meanwhile, Jane says, single women who sit at the bar are sometimes mistaken for escorts by patrons.

Although some restaurants may encourage escorts, what can a restaurant do if to prevent illicit sexual conduct and harassment? Nello’s answer is discriminate against all unaccompanied women with their new seating policy. Restaurants could be fertile ground for hostile work environment claims if restaurant management directs servers to look the other way and for hostesses to enable and participate in the sexual gratification of patrons as a condition of employment. One approach is for restaurants to adopt a system like the restaurant Homeroom in Oakland, California. Homeroom’s owner described her color-coded system in the Washington Post as a system in which:

different types of customer behavior are categorized as yellow, orange or red. Yellow refers to a creepy vibe or unsavory look. Orange means comments with sexual undertones, such as certain compliments on a worker’s appearance. Red signals overtly sexual comments or touching, or repeated incidents in the orange category after being told the comments were unwelcome.”

Homeroom’s staff are instructed to report harassment or unsavory behavior to the manager according to the color and the manager must take specific action such as taking over the table if “orange” is reported or ejecting the customer from the restaurant if “red” is reported. This system seems like an effective way to protect the restaurant’s staff and handle illicit activity without discriminating against female patrons.

Security cameras are another way that restaurants can work toward cracking down on bad behavior. For example, a restaurant in Savannah, Georgia installed security cameras after several servers reported assault by a customer, but the police were unable to press charges due to insufficient evidence. One of the servers, Emilia Holden, stopped a customer and called the police after he touched her butt in appropriately. The customer was charged with sexual battery after the police reviewed the security footage.

If you have been the victim of a hostile work environment, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

On Sunday night, the New Yorker published a piece by Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer regarding sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, from his freshman year at Yale. The article was published on the heels of the first victim, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, agreeing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her allegations that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students. A third unidentified woman is offering to meet with the FBI to disclose how she was victimized and has implicated Judge Kavanaugh and others in the targeting of women for gang rape through the use of drugs and alcohol. Even with the number of victims adding up, the U.S. Senate is showing us how little the culture has shifted over the last 3 decades when it comes to victims stepping forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against powerful men.

1991 vs. 2018: Have We Evolved?

The response to these allegations has ranged from outright denial and support for Judge Kavanaugh to demands for the FBI to re-open its background investigation into Kavanaugh, protests, and the new hashtag #WhyIdidntReportIt. It is a pivotal moment because the Senate Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to handle the allegations differently from the 1991 Anita Hill sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas. In 1991, Professor Hill was asked if she was a “scorned woman” and why she didn’t come forward with her allegations sooner. The Senators also told her that discussing “large breasts” in the workplace was common behavior and they didn’t understand why she thought such talk was embarrassing. As we all know, Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed and has been serving on the U.S. Supreme Court since 1991.

In light of the #MeToo movement taking off over the past year, women are hoping not to relive the humiliation, hostility, and condescension when Dr. Blasey Ford, and possibly others, testify before the Senate. As Tarana Burke said,

It’s been 27 years since Anita Hill. We need to see that there is a different understanding about sexual violence. We need to see that they know how to approach and handle issues of sexual violence in a very different way.”

Unfortunately, we are hearing echoes of the same attempts to discredit Anita Hill in 1991. The power structure from 1991 remains roughly intact – there are no female Republican Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senators Chuck Grassley (R – IA), Orrin Hatch (R – UT), and Patrick Leahy (D – VT) were all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. We are already hearing from many Senators, men, and women, dismissing the allegations against Kavanaugh as fabricated, as something that all male teenagers do, and even making jokes about sexual assault.

Is There a Light at the End of This Tunnel?

Four women made history by becoming U.S. senators in one year shortly after the Thomas confirmation hearings. We now have 23 women in the Senate and 2018 will be a record year for the number of women running for office. Is it all on the women running for office to change the culture in Washington and across the country regarding sexual misconduct? The burden to change cannot be placed solely on female legislators. Sure, it will help to have more women in government and in positions of power. But as we can see, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still mostly men and many male senators in power don’t want an independent investigation of the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. The change won’t happen without the men who witness other men behaving badly. The change won’t happen until men and women believe victims when they get past the fear of retaliation to speak up about sexual misconduct.

If you have been the victim of sexual misconduct, you should discuss your story with an attorney who can guide you. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage, including pre-litigation. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

Escuchamos sobre el acoso sexual en las noticias, pero quizás ustedes se preguntan cuál es la definición de acoso sexual? Hay acaso diferencias entre las leyes federales y las leyes de la Florida?

Bajo las leyes federales, el acoso sexual as una forma de discriminación sexual que viola el Título VII de la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964. Es illegal el acosar a una persona debido a su sexo. El acoso puede incluir acoso sexual, proposiciones sexuales indeseadas, solicitudes de favores sexuales, y otros acosos verbales o físicos de naturaleza sexual. Bajo las leyes federales, el acoso no necesariamente debe ser de naturaleza sexual, y puede incluir comentarios ofensivos sobre el sexo de la persona. La Asociación Americana de Mujeres Universitarias proporciona en su sitio web una sección dedicada a preguntas y respuestas sobre el acoso sexual bajo el Título VII, e incluye ejemplos y explicaciones de diferentes tipos de acoso sexual.

En la Florida, el acoso sexual también es una forma de discriminación sexual que viola la Ley de Derechos Civiles de la Florida de 1992, la cual cataloga como una práctica de empleo illegal el “despedir, dejar de o rehusar contratar a un individuo, o discriminar en su contra con relación a compensación, términos, condiciones, o beneficios laborales,” basado en el sexo del individuo.

Muchos manuales de empleados incluyen una definición o política del empledor con relación al acoso, incluyendo el acoso sexual. Por ejemplo, La Oficina de Derechos Humanos y Prácticas de Empleo Justas del condado de Miami-Dade ha publicado un folleto disponible en línea con relación al acoso sexual de los empleados del condado, el cual define al acoso sexual como “conducta de naturaleza sexual indeseada, que puede consistir en avances sexuales, solicitudes de favores sexuales, y otra conducta verbal o física. La conducta puede constituir acoso sexual cuando la misma explícita o implicitamente afecta el empleo de un individuo, interfiere indebidamente con el desempeño laboral del empleado, o crea un ambiente de trabajo intimidatorio, hostil, u ofensivo.”

Un abogado puede ayudarlo a determinar si usted está experimentando acoso sexual en su lugar de empleo y sus derechos bajo las leyes federales y estatales. Nuestros abogados pueden asistirlo en cualquier etapa del problema, incluyendo antes de iniciar una acción legal. Por favor no dude en ponerse en contacto con nostros para programar una consulta confidencial con nuestros abogados.

Beyonce, as usual, is making headlines with her September issue of Vogue and a candid interview with her thoughts on all sorts of topics, including, the legacy she wants to pass on to her kids. She wants her daughters to see themselves in books, films, as CEOs, and knowing that they don’t have to fit a certain mold. When it comes to her son, she says:

I hope to teach my son not to fall victim to what the internet says he should be or how he should love. I want to create better representations for him so he is allowed to reach his full potential as a man, and to teach him that the real magic he possesses in the world is the power to affirm his own existence.”

This quote led me to think about how toxic masculinity (and femininity) influences our lives and our roles at work, home, school, and in our communities. I certainly can’t answer what it’s like to be a man, but I don’t think men and women should feel confined to play certain roles and fulfill stereotypes to be “quiet and nice” or “strong and stoic.”

How do men and women work together to turn things around?

There is a treasure trove of answers and thought-provoking questions in the Man Enough online series that is the start of a very important dialogue. In the series, a group of men openly discuss what it means to be a man, be vulnerable, and #metoo. The men in the series recognize that the concepts of masculinity in American media ingrain misogyny in boys and girls from an early age. So much so that almost all the men in the series have witnessed harassment or assault and failed to intervene even though they consider themselves good guys. In the #metoo episode, Tony Porter, the CEO of A Call to Men says that he thinks “It’s really rooted in how the law is defined. You could do some crazy s—- and be on the side of the law, right?” Yes, he’s right in the sense that employers and harassers got away with sexual harassment and retaliation against women for coming forward for a long time (and still do sometimes), mostly because there weren’t any real legal consequences until Title VII came along, but sexual harassment continues despite the legal remedies that exist at the state and federal level. Legal remedies by themselves are insufficient to effect change in the absence of a shift in culture. If women aren’t comfortable coming forward, there won’t be any cases against harassers and/or their employers.

Social consequences

#Metoo is the dawn of social consequences for bad behavior. Will #metoo lead to legal consequences? We will have to wait and see. If we give boys the space to ignore what the internet says boys and men should be and allow them to affirm their own existence, will misogyny begin to disappear? This won’t be my last post on this complicated topic, so stay tuned!

 

We hear about sexual harassment in the news, but you might be wondering how is sexual harassment defined? Is there a difference between federal law and Florida law?

Under federal law, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Under federal law, the harassment does not have to be sexual in nature and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. The American Association of University Women provides a comprehensive FAQ section on sexual harassment under Title VII that provides examples and explanations of different types of sexual harassment.

In Florida, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates The Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) of 1992. The FCRA makes it an unlawful employment practice to

discharge or to fail or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,”

because of a person’s sex.

Many employee handbooks include the employer’s own definition or policy regarding harassment, including sexual harassment. For example, The Miami-Dade County Office of Human Rights and Fair Employment Practices published a brochure available online regarding sexual harassment of county employees and defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature and may consist of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct. Conduct may constitute sexual harassment when it explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

An attorney can help you determine whether you are experiencing sexual harassment at work and your rights under the law. Our attorneys can assist you at any stage, including pre-litigation. Please contact us to set up a confidential consultation.

Entrevista con la Doctora Cristal Glangchai

Las mujeres ocupan casi el 52% de todos los trabajos a nivel profesional, pero en el campo de los negocios, sólo un 25% es ocupado por mujeres en cargos ejecutivos o de nivel senior, y sólo el 6% de ellas ocupan cargos de Director General. En otras profesiones, las estadísticas no son mejores – en las leyes, sólo un 22% de mujeres son socias de firmas, y en el ámbito académico, sólo un 31% de ellas son catedráticas a tiempo completo. En el 2013, sólo un 6% de mujeres eran socias de compañías de capital de riesgo. Es acaso éste imbalance de poder la respuesta al por qué el acoso sexual es tan desenfrenado en los lugares de trabajo?   Si más mujeres ocuparan cargos de poder, acaso el acoso sexual o la discriminación de género se reducirían significativamente? Cómo aumentamos el número de mujeres que ocupen cargos de Director General, socias en firmas de abogados, o catedráticas universitarias?  Exploré varios de éstos temas y soluciones con la Doctora Cristal Glangchai, autora del libro publicado recientemente VentureGirls: Raising Girls to be Tomorrow’s Leaders, Directora General de VentureLab, profesora, y experta en empresariado.

La Discriminación de Género y el Acoso Sexual Ocurren Sin Importar tus Credenciales

Dr. Cristal Glangchai

La Dr. Glangchai posee una formación académica impresionante en tecnología, ciencias, e ingeniería que emergió de una educación igualitaria que su padre ideó para ella y sus hermanas.  A pesar de ésto, ella se ha tropezado con su buena parte de discriminación de género y acoso sexual. Dr. Glangchai creció frustada y molesta con lo que veía: peticiones estereotípicas para que trajera café o tomara notas por ser la única mujer ingeniero en la firma; las inseguridades y la intimidación que ella veía en sus estudiantes universitarias femeninas comparadas con sus estudiantes masculinos; la ausencia de Directores Generales femeninas en el campo de la teconología, y que le dijeran “tú no tienes suficientes canas y en realidad no creemos que una muchacha jóven como tú pueda con esto,” cuando Dr. Glangchai comenzó a mercadear su idea de investigación para su tésis de grado, la cual consistía en emprender una compañía de nanotecnología.

Habilidades Empresariales Como Una Solución

A pesar de que estamos en el siglo 21, nada parecía cambiar en este ámbito. Es por esto que Dr. Glangchai inició su propia solución en su hogar con sus hijas de 4 años.  Dr. Glangchai comenzó a enseñarle a sus hijas conceptos empresariales, los cuales resultaron en un aumento en la participación en clase de las niñas y en una mayor dispocisión de parte de ellas para explicar lecciones a otros niños, lo cual las maestras de las niñas notaron inmediatamente.  Cuando Dr. Glangchai vió lo efectivo que eran sus conceptos empresariales en sus hijas, ella decidió fundar VentureLab y comenzó a escribir el libro VentureGirls con el fin de enseñar éstas habilidades a otras niñas y darles la confianza de perseguir sus sueños y pasiones. “Se trata de darle a las niñas la confianza de creer en ellas mismas y en su habilidad de ignorar las presiones sociales.” Dr. Glangchai cree que “necesitamos enseñarle a nuestras niñas a ser más aventureras cómo se le enseña a los niños. Necesitamos enseñarle a las niñas a presumir de ellas mismas. A pesar de que éstos son pequeños conceptos,” recalca Dr. Glangchai, “los mismos forjan fortaleza y confianza en nuestras niñas para perseguir cualquier cosa que ellas desean hacer, pero al mismo tiempo enseñan a nuestros niños que todos pueden hacer ésto, y que no se trata de niños o niñas.”

Concientización, Cambios Culturales, y Empoderamiento de Mujeres y Niñas

Si el resultado de enseñar éstos conceptos empresariales a las nuevas generaciones de niñas resulta en un mayor liderazgo femenino en el ámbito de los negocios, que significa ésto para nuestros ambientes de trabajo del futuro? Las investigaciones demuestran que las organizaciones que son dominadas por hombres, super jerárquicas, e indulgentes ante malos comportamientos en general, están más propensas a tener acoso sexual y abusos. Es impotante tener líderes femeninas, pues las mismas balancean el poder dentro de la organización y previenen que la masculinidad se adueñe de la cultura de la organización.

Dr. Glangchai dice que el incremento en la concientización del acoso sexual y el no dudar de las mujeres que deciden hablar del problema está comenzando a cambiar la filosofía de lo que las organizaciones están dispuestas a tolerar, con muchas de ellas sobrecorrigiendo. Sin embargo, Dr. Glangchai piensa que “vamos a llegar a un punto de nivelación” y cree que ésto deberá ser un cambio cultural. “No vamos a solucionar éste problema sólo con la concientización, pues las personas que ya tienen su forma de ser no van a cambiar la misma.  Para mí, es una revolución cultural y la misma comienza con nuestros hijos.  Y parte de la meta de VentureGirls es darle a las niñas la confianza de transformarse en líderes, pero a la misma vez enseñar a los niños que la niñas con igualmente capaces.”

 

Si usted ha sido acosada sexualmente o discriminada por su género, el primer paso y el más importante es sentirse cómoda hablando al respecto, decirle al ofensor que detenga su comportamiento, y reportar lo que le ha sucedido. Si la compañía para la cual usted trabaja tiene un manual de empleados, el mismo debe de informarle a quién debe de dirigirse para reportar el acoso sexual o la discriminación.  Si used ha experimentado acoso sexual en su lugar de trabajo, usted puede informarse sobre sus derechos legales consultando a un abogado.

On June 25, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued its opinion in Wilcox v. Corrections Corporation of America in favor of the employer in a Title VII sexual harassment claim. The 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s granting of the employer’s Rule 50 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (“Rule 50 Motion”) after a jury returned a verdict for the employee, Felicia A. Wilcox, of $4,000 in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the employer, Corrections Corporation of America, that the employer could not be held liable because it took prompt remedial action after Ms. Wilcox complained about the harassment.

Helen H. Albee, one of Ms. Wilcox’s attorneys, was surprised that the 11th Circuit followed what the district court did and were “unconcerned with the amount of factual analysis the district court did on the Rule 50 motion.” Ms. Albee noted that after the jury’s verdict, the district court did “a lot of re-weighing the evidence the jury did already.” Let’s take a look at the facts and what happened in this case.

What Happened and When?

Ms. Wilcox alleged that a coworker, Larry Jackson, slapped her buttocks twice, squeezed her thigh, and made sexually explicit remarks on different occasions. When Ms. Wilcox filed a complaint with her employer, the employer took the following steps:

  • The employer ordered Jackson not to be around Ms. Wilcox immediately, but nonetheless he rolled his eyes at her repeatedly and punched a metal machine in front of her to intimidate her;
  • After Ms. Wilcox made a second complaint to the employer about prior sexual harassment incidents and her fear that he would touch her again, the employer’s investigator interviewed Ms. Wilcox 6 weeks after her first complaint;
  • The employer’s investigation included interviews with 16 other employees that resulted in sexual harassment complaints against Jackson by other employees;
  • 8 weeks after Ms. Wilcox’s complaint, the employer’s investigator found that Jackson sexually harassed Ms. Wilcox and other employees; and
  • The employer terminated Jackson five days after the investigation report.

Knowledge + No Prompt Remedial Action = Employer’s Direct Liability

An employer can be held liable for a hostile work environment claim through either vicarious or direct liability. If the harasser is not the victim’s supervisor, an “employer will be held directly liable only if it knew or should have known of the harassing conduct but failed to take prompt remedial action.” Miller v. Kenworth of Dothan, Inc., 277 F.3d 1269, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002). Wilcox argued that her employer should have known about Jackson’s additional harassment after she complained about him because he would inappropriately hug female employees and make intimidating looks and gestures toward Ms. Wilcox after her first complaint. The 11th Circuit didn’t think the harassment was sufficiently pervasive to impute knowledge to the employer because (1) Ms. Wilcox didn’t report the hugging or intimidating conduct; (2) there wasn’t any evidence that the hugging was widespread or considered offensive; and (3) the employer’s anti-discrimination policy was well-known and vigorously enforced.

As for the employer’s “prompt remedial action,” the 11th Circuit held the employer’s action was effective “and a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find otherwise.” Wilcox v. Corr. Corp. of Am., No. 17-11919, 2018 WL 3099892 (11th Cir. June 25, 2018). The only prompt action that seemed to occur here was ordering Jackson to stay away from Ms. Wilcox. Nine weeks is a long time to be working alongside a harasser who is being physically intimidating without saying a word. During oral argument, the employer’s attorney argued that Jackson’s termination within 5 days of the report concluding sexual harassment occurred and investigation into numerous other allegations showed that the ends justified the means because “the investigation was reasonable under the circumstances.” The 11th Circuit reasoned that a jury could not find that the employer failed to act promptly because “there were a lot of moving parts in the company’s investigation, and each of those workings took time” and “culminated in Jackson’s termination.” Wilcox, No. 17-11919, 2018 WL 3099892 (11th Cir. June 25, 2018).

Many employees want to know what is going on with the company’s investigation after lodging a sexual harassment complaint. Working alongside a harasser while an investigation is ongoing can be excruciating, but many employers don’t keep the victim apprised of the investigation. While taking six weeks to interview a victim scarcely seems “prompt,” a court may conclude otherwise if the investigation is complicated and results in the harasser’s termination. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, an attorney can help you understand your rights and guide you through the pre-litigation phase.

As the #metoo movement continues gaining momentum, the dialogue around sexual harassment and assault is shifting to reveal the epidemic of sexual misconduct in our culture. Up to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, 75% of victims of hostile work environments do not report the harassment, and 75% of those who report harassment experience retaliation. What actions come next? On April 25, 2018, activists, advocates and lawmakers gathered at the U.S. Capitol to say Enough is Enough to the culture of sexual harassment and discuss how to strengthen federal law and policy, organize survivors, address workplace policies, and develop survivor-centric solutions. The Summit exemplifies the types of discussions we need to achieve justice for sexual harassment victims and prevent harassment. Video of the Summit is available on CSPAN.

The Takeaway from the Summit

Toni Van Pelt, NOW President

For Toni Van Pelt, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the takeaway from the Summit was “the deeply embedded need to overhaul the ways we deal with sexual assault from a political, legal, and cultural lens.” For her, identifying the scope of the problem, and where activists should target their energies were at the top of her list. Deborah Vagins, Senior Vice President of Public Policy & Research with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), found the Summit to show “we are at a moment in time where hopefully something can be done to address this problem” because the #metoo movement has “pierced the public consciousness” in a way we have not seen in decades.

How do We Strengthen Federal Law and Policy to Address Sexual Harassment?

Deborah Vagins, AAUW Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Research

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the federal law that makes it unlawful to discriminate because of an individual’s sex and makes sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination. In addition to built-in limitations in Title VII, court decisions have interpreted the statute in ways that further limit the protections and relief a victim can seek in court. Ms. Vagins, one of the participants on the federal law and policy panel at the Summit, said her panel identified the following barriers in Title VII cases:

  • Standards of liability against the employer have become more difficult over the years. Holding an employer vicariously liable for the misconduct of a daily manager, for example, is more difficult if the manager doesn’t have the power to hire or fire you;
  • Forced mandatory arbitration clauses that force victims to forego their day in court;
  • Non-disclosure agreements that are a condition of employment;
  • Short statute of limitations;
  • Title VII’s fifteen-employee threshold for the law to apply to the employer; and
  • Title VII’s limited reach that does not cover independent contractors.

Ms. Van Pelt adds that we need to look “towards strengthening Title VII protections for all workers,” including those in small companies, contractors, domestic workers and laborers like caregivers and maids, and farm and migrant labor workers because they “are some of the most abused and exploited workers in the world.” Ms. Van Pelt also emphasized the importance of renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which will automatically expire if not renewed this year. She believes VAWA should also specifically address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and in schools.

Potential Legislative Proposals

Besides strengthening Title VII and VAWA, Ms. Vagins and Ms. Van Pelt shared the following existing or potential bills with me:

  • Arbitration Fairness Act – to prohibit pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in employment discrimination, consumer, antitrust, and civil rights cases;
  • Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act – limits pre-dispute mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases only;
  • Equal Remedies Act – an older bill that would lift the caps on Title VII damages, helping to deter companies from knowingly violating Title VII;
  • Fair Employment Protection Act – makes employers liable for harassment by workers who have the authority to control the daily lives of employees regardless of the authority to hire or fire;
  • Bills relating to the legislative workforce and their unpaid interns;
  • Bills addressing non-disclosure clauses as a condition of employment, requiring that public companies disclose the number of settlements in connection with harassment; and
  • Bills with requirements for developing and disseminating workplace training programs.

Ms. Vagins points out that none of these bills holds the answer, “but in combination would go a long way.” Ms. Van Pelt believes it is also important to strengthen Title IX to ensure it is “not only protecting students on campus, but that there are clear and transparent reporting processes.” As for timing, movement on these proposals and bills won’t have to wait until after the 2018 mid-term elections. “Right now a bipartisan committee is already working on VAWA; however I believe that the influx of progressive women running for office in November will inevitably bring about a much-needed cultural change” says Ms. Van Pelt. Ms. Vagins is equally optimistic and says to

never underestimate the power of public pressure to make change.”

If either chamber flips to a different party, Ms. Vagins thinks we will “probably see a flurry of these bills pass,” so legislators need to be careful to protect existing civil rights bills from unfriendly amendments.

Year-Round Resources

The Enough is Enough Summit may become a much-needed annual event to continue this important dialogue and find solutions. Throughout the year, AAUW, NOW, and some of the other organizations that participated in the Summit provide resources and legislative campaigns for sexual harassment victims their attorneys including: AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund to offset litigation costs and Know Your Rights materials; NOW’s national action campaigns; and the National Women’s Law Center’s Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, we can help you understand your rights.

Scandal in the Florida Legislature

The Florida legislature was rocked by scandals in 2017 when two Florida Senate investigations against Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) were prompted by six women accusing him of sexual harassment. Rep. Latvala resigned from the Senate after the investigations showed that he engaged in harassing and inappropriately touching female staffers and lobbyists, and for potentially violating public corruption laws by demanding sex in exchange for supporting lobbyist initiatives.

Florida State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist a day after his affair went public. And, former Republican congressman and Public Service Commission appointee, Ritch Workman, stepped down after female Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) accused him of touching her inappropriately and making vulgar comments.

Senator Lauren Book

These scandals and resignations led Florida State Senator Lauren Book (D- Plantation) to introduce Senate Bill 1628 to make sexual harassment in government offices a crime. The bill would have amended Florida statutes on legislative organization and the code of ethics for public officers and employees by making sexual harassment a crime and outlawing sexual advances by legislators, candidates for public office, agency employees, and lobbyists. The proposed law would have also banned the hiring of lobbyist “closers,” i.e., young men and women expected to submit to sexual advances from lawmakers in the closing days of the legislative session. Even though the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved the bill immediately in January, different versions of the bill were approved at different points by both the Florida House and Senate, it unfortunately was indefinitely postponed and eventually withdrawn from consideration.

What are the existing laws that make sexual harassment unlawful?

Even though SB 1628 died in the Florida Senate, it is expected to make a comeback in the next legislative session. Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), the chair of the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, who refused to put the bill on the agenda, told the Tampa Bay Times that

It needs a little more time to figure out all that’s in there. It will be back. That subject is never finished.”

Outside of the Florida government, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates both federal and Florida law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. In Florida, the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) of 1992, Section 760.01, et. seq., Florida Statutes, makes it an unlawful employment practice to “discharge or to fail or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.” Like Title VII, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under the FCRA.

Bill Eventually Withdrawn; What Now?

The bill that was inspired by the high-profile resignations would have created a specific sexual harassment statute in Florida prohibiting sexual harassment in government workplaces and agencies failed in the last legislative session and we will have to wait and see if it is reintroduced in the fall. So, what can Florida government employees who suffered sexual harassment do? Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act provisions are still in place and provide civil relief, but don’t go as far as SB 1628 would have gone and made sexual harassment a crime or ethics violation. The same standards would need to be applied for now until stronger state legislation is passed.

We Can Help

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment and would like to discuss what remedies may be available to you under both the federal and Florida Civil Rights Acts, please feel free to contact us to discuss your situation.