9 Women Who Fought Back Against Workplace Sexual Discrimination
Did you know that two-thirds of young women and half of all women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past twelve months? These new statistics are the first ever to document the prevalence of occurrences that leave women, at best, feeling like their contributions to the workplace are lesser than their male colleagues’, and at worst, being bullied into dropping rape allegations against colleagues. The ‘Still just a bit of banter?’ report, put together by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Everyday Sexism Project founded by MAKER Laura Bates, backs up what the Project’s online platform - a collective sharing of quotidian experiences of sexism - has attested to for a long time; sexual harassment in the workplace is rife. And unacceptable. Bates said: “Everybody can play a part in challenging the social acceptability of this kind of behaviour by reacting when it happens, reporting it and supporting victims in the workplace. Nobody should shrug it off as ‘just a bit of banter’”.
While Bates and the TUC have made workplace sexual harassment a quantifiable problem in the hope that work to stamp it out will be ramped up, they’re not the first to confront this issue. Here’s a run-down of women who have fought back against sexist - and racist - treatment at the workplace, inspiring thousands of women to come forward in cases of harassment and helping to establish new standards in the workplace.
1970s - A group of female activists from Cornell University got together for a “speak out” after a former colleague sued for unemployment insurance after quitting her job over inappropriate touching she was subjected to. The group created the term “sexual harassment”. In this decade, the UK introduced the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, intended to outlaw discrimination in the workplace.
In 1991, America was jolted into the realisation that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 wasn’t being upheld in even the most seemingly professional of places, the Supreme Court. Anita Hill, who had worked for Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, spoke out against him after he received then-president George Bush Snr’s nomination as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. According to Hill, after she rebuffed his sexual advances, he taunted her with inappropriate comments about sex acts and pornography. Tabloid controversy surrounded the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, which Thomas called “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks”. A 98% male Senate voted him in by 52 to 48, but, the following year, a record number of women ran for US office.
The high profile nature of the Hill-Clarence case resulted in a quadrupling of reports of sexual harassment, and meant the story of a woman fighting back against her harasser garnered international attention. Hill, now a professor of law at Brandeis University, says: “I would do it all again.”
Bourdouane - whose first name is unknown, was a children’s birthday party organiser at Go Kidz Go. After a male parent made sexually suggestive comments to her at one party, she left and complained to a senior member of staff, who advised her to return to the situation, and that it would resolve itself. The parent then pressed himself against her and smacked her backside. Go Kidz Go appealed the initial tribunal finding against them on the basis they could not be accountable for a third party’s actions, but this argument was dismissed, establishing that employers do have a duty to stop third-party harassment. However, as of October 2013, this was changed so that employers faced a three-strike rule on third-party harassment. Bates is now calling on the government to “reinstitute third party harassment responsibility that would make it an employer’s duty to protect workers from sexual harassment perpetrated by clients and customers.”
In 2000, Moore, who had worked with domestic violence cases as a Metropolitan Police officer, was awarded £150,000 in compensation after being bullied out of her job after requesting to change shifts in order to share child-care duties with her police officer husband. It may not have been sexual harassment, but the gender-based taunts meant Moore became “a scapegoat for the section’s ills, had her sickness record exaggerated and became the subject of unduly punitive attitudes” following her return to work after a period of maternity leave.
Again in 2000, again a former Metropolitan Police constable, Waters was granted the right by five Law Lords to sue her ex-employers for negligence after her reporting sexual harassment and rape at the hands of a fellow officer resulted in four years of bullying and victimisation. As well as a reluctance to investigate the allegations, the force’s mishandling resulted in psychiatric damage for Waters and she had to leave the force. The judgement means that if an employee reports bullying, harassment or victimisation to an employer and that employer takes no action, and this inaction results in psychiatric injury to the employee, that employee may have grounds for suing for negligence.
In 2000, Sheridan took her former estate agent employers Ward and Partners to an employment tribunal claiming harassment, discrimination and personal injury after being subjected to a year-long campaign of sexual harassment, exposure and indecency. Sheridan won, having had suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the harassment. And importantly, this hearing, held five years after the alleged harassment set a precedent, abolished the 12 week time limit by which cases could be brought.
This Cambridge graduate banker was awarded £3.2 million by Russian bank Sberbank CIB after a tribunal found that 3 of her 22 complaints of sexual harassment were found to cross over from bullying - which is not legislated against - to sexual harassment as defined by the Equality Act 2010. Colleagues had called Lokhova, who was paid in excess of £750,000 a year and had made the bank £20 million in profits, “crazy Miss Cokehead” and “bonkers”. They’d also said she was only hired “because of her t***” and that she had “unfortunate natural brain chemistry.” Of the awarded money, £15,000 was for “aggravated damages”, as the bank deliberately used the accusation of her drug-taking to slur her character during the hearing. The boss who instigated the bullying soon left the bank but the tribunal expressed disappointment that the CEO, who was found guilty of unlawful victimisation for failing to internally investigate Lokhova’s complaints, retained his job. That so few of her complaints were upheld is testament to how important it is to report each incident.
The doctor for the Chelsea Football Club team was given a settlement between £1.2 million and £5 million in 2016 after claiming “whole career loss” as a result of sexual harassment, much of it from the team’s manager, Jose Mourinho. Carneiro had run onto the pitch to treat injured mid-fielder Eden Hazard in a match against Swansea City. Mourinho publicly criticised her, saying: “I wasn't happy with my medical staff because even if you are a medical doctor or secretary on the bench you have to understand the game” , privately called her a “daughter of a whore” and demoted her to the women’s team. She soon departed the club, claiming in the subsequent tribunal hearing that she had been victim of “regular sexually explicit comments from colleagues” and “sexually explicit chanting” from fans at matches. Following the settlement, Carneiro said, “My priority has always been the health and safety of the players and fulfilling my duty of care as a doctor. Running on to the pitch to treat a player who requested medical attention was following the rules of the game and fulfilling my medical responsibilities."
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