Harassment claims increase slightly in state as more lawsuits fail nationally


Please note: it may be difficult to read, but 99412 is the “Total Charges in U.S. (FY?2012),” and 93,727 is the “Total Charges in U.S. (FY?2013).”



By Cynthia Price/Legal News,
from National Women’s Law Center and The Network information

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its 2013 report of harassment and discrimination in the workplace and found that Michigan had 2,604 harassment and discrimination charges in 2013, which is up 1 per cent from 2012, during a time period when the United States as a whole saw a decrease of 5.7 per cent.
At the beginning of February, the EEOC reported that it had obtained the highest monetary recovery in agency history during Fiscal Year 2013 (which Sept. 30). The amount increased by $6.7 million to $372.1 million.

At the time, EEOC?Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien said, “The data released today reflects the commitment of the men and women of the EEOC to fulfilling our vision of achieving justice and equality in the nation's workplaces. This work is particularly noteworthy given the extraordinary fiscal constraints and operational challenges in [FY] 2013."

However, Michigan’s charges increased from 2587 to 2604. The report, which can be found at  http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm, made many other interesting findings about the state of harassment and discrimination in Michigan, which The Network – a governance, risk and compliance solutions provider – put together in the infographic shown below.

Jimmy Lin, The Network’s Vice President of Product Management and Corporate Development, answered the following questions on the claims for the Legal News.

1. What were some of the reasons harassment and discrimination increased in 2013 in Michigan?

Lin: Harassment and discrimination continues to rise in the workplace because of the lack of proper training companies provide employees. Too often, companies just hand employees a 200-page code of conduct and do little or no other training. Employees most likely aren’t going to read their company’s code of conduct cover to cover, so that means employers need to provide supplemental training that’s engaging and interactive. If not, employees will remain oblivious to what their company’s harassment and discrimination policy even is.  In fact, a recent study by Aware.org found that two thirds of employees aren’t aware of their company’s harassment and discrimination policy.  

2. How can businesses turn this trend around? Can employees help with this task too?

Lin: Preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace needs to start with a solid code of conduct and anti-harassment policy that includes step-by-step instructions on what to do if an employee learns of violations to that policy. Employees should be educated as to what counts as discrimination and/or harassment and how to appropriately respond to these situations should they arise. Managers also need to know how to deal with these issues and when to escalate them. Incidents are often buried by middle managers who do not respond properly or by the time issues escalate, are afraid to get additional help from above. A comprehensive workplace harassment training program needs to include periodic education as well as follow-up awareness learning and ongoing awareness communications – it can’t be viewed as a “once and done” exercise.

3. Where can people go if they feel as if they have been harassed or discriminated against?

Lin: The procedure on how to handle a harassment or discrimination incident varies by company, as it depends on each company’s own procedure. However, if possible, an employee should first and foremost tell his or her supervisor; if the supervisor is the person whose behavior is concerning, then talk with the next person of seniority, after which the human resources department is the next best bet. The HR department can give advice about the correct process to follow and can direct you to other avenues of support.

The goal of every company should be to develop a speak-up culture. Managers should want their employees to come to them in they feel something is wrong. Developing this type of culture all starts with having a solid and clear code of conduct in place and should then be reflected in the company’s training programs.

At the same time, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has released a report that underscores the need to strengthen workplace protections from sexual harassment. The report explains how a recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Vance v. Ball State University undercuts protections from supervisor harassment by excluding supervisors who do not have the power to hire and fire. Now those who direct daily work activities—deciding who works the night shift and who works days, who can take a break, who gets the best and the worst assignments—without the power to hire or fire, are coworkers in the eyes of the law. As a result, the tougher legal standard that applies in cases of coworker harassment now applies to harassment by these supervisors.

The report, Reality Check: Seventeen Million Reasons Low-Wage Workers Need Strong Protections from Harassment, the first in an NWLC series this spring on women’s economic issues, demonstrates how this redefinition of supervisor weakens protections from harassment for millions of workers, especially for those in low-wage jobs who are both particularly vulnerable to harassment and very likely to report to a lower-level supervisor. Sexual harassment in the workplace is pervasive:  25 percent of women and 10 percent of men report having experienced harassment on the job. The decision was—in the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent —“blind to the realities of the workplace.”

Lower-level supervisors are extremely common in workplaces with many low-wage workers.  NWLC data analysis shows:

There are 6.3 million lower-level supervisors who do not have the power to hire and fire but who have significant authority over their subordinates.

 There are 3.1 million lower-level supervisors for 17.4 million low-wage workers--virtually all of the low wage workforce. Another 3.2 million lower-level supervisors oversee millions of workers who do not earn low wages.
“It’s shameful that the law gives cover to lower-level supervisors when they sexually harass their workers,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice-President for Education and Employment.  “A worker who tries to hold an employer accountable for harassment stands a good chance of having the case tossed out simply for failing to meet the new narrower definition of supervisor.”

One stark reality the report highlights is that lower-level supervisors have significant power, as one manager who threatened the woman he had harassed put it, to make life a “living hell” for their targets if they “take matters over [their] head[s].” Employees who have the courage to come forward deserve strong protections.

But, according to NWLC, unless policymakers take corrective action, many more workers will suffer harassment at the hands of lower-level supervisors, and many who come forward may be denied their day in court.
The Fair Employment Protection Act, recently introduced in Congress, would restore strong protections from harassment that the Court stripped away. “It’s time to re-open the court house door to millions of hardworking Americans,” Goss Graves said.