California lawmaker sexual harassment crisis: Is training adequate?

Harass

The movement by women across the country who are coming forward with their stories of workplace sexual harassment has reached the California State Capitol. In October, a letter signed by nearly 150 women was released that said sexual harassment is at toxic levels in the Legislature. Since then, two assemblymen have resigned after several women accused them of harassment, and a state senator is facing similar claims of inappropriate behavior with female staff members.

"This is a time of great change, and it's happening because women are coming forward to tell their stories, to say that sexual harassment is unacceptable and must end. Now we have to make sure the change is permanent and extends to all women in all workplaces." said Robert Schwartz, Partner with Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer.

As the nation reckons at last with how pervasive and destructive sexual harassment is in this country, it is clear that things have to change. The courage of victims naming their harassers is just the beginning. Litigation against companies that protect executives and managers who harass their subordinates will be an important part of making all workplaces a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

"At Gwilliam Ivary, we've been fighting for women who have suffered sexual harassment at work long before #MeToo and we are delighted that this movement is bringing to light a conversation that has been whispered in the dark for far too long. We want to help eradicate the culture of victimization of women at the hands of their employers and we care about our clients holistically. You are more than your case and you are more than what has been done to you. Nothing makes us more successful than helping you realize that justice is possible and that you can move on." said Jayme Walker, Partner with Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer.

Is workplace training adequate?

Another key part of this revolution will be training managers and supervisors so that they are clear what is appropriate behavior at work -- and what is not. Anti-sexual harassment training programs are already common in corporate America. But a recent report in The San Jose Mercury News suggests that there is long way to go before these programs are effective.

Sexual harassment at the Capitol

As the Mercury News reports, the California Legislature requires lawmakers to attend a sexual harassment training course every two years. Attendance is supposed to be mandatory and the vast majority of legislators do attend. However, at least one state senator skipped this year's course and had not made it up as of Dec. 19. Seven lawmakers missed the class in 2013, and at least three did not show up in 2015.

Perhaps more concerning is the behavior of legislators who do attend. Side conversations and cellphone use are rampant. "I would say the large majority of people are not as attentive," Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, chair of the Legislative Women's Caucus, admitted.

What sexual harassment looks like

There are many forms of workplace sexual harassment. Some classic examples include:

  • Sexually charged jokes, remarks or emails
  • Unwanted touching or physical blocking
  • Requests for sexual favors, perhaps in exchange for job benefits or under threat of termination

Women who try to resist these advances or inappropriate comments often find themselves suddenly getting punished, demoted or even fired on some pretext. They lose their means of income, and may be forced to take a lower-paying job. All because they did not accept being the victim of sexual harassment.

"There is no place for sexual harassment in the workplace or anywhere else. For too long, men in positions of power have used fear and intimidation for exploitation. Thanks to many, many courageous women, we are hopefully at a crossroads towards sustained positive change." said Randall E. Strauss, Partner with Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer.

Workers with an experience similar to this have the legal right to pursue damages from their employer or former employer in court. If you are considering taking legal action, consult an experienced Bay Area employment lawyer to learn about your options.