Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sexual Harassment Verdict Against Thomas Proves Problems Still Exist in the Workplace Today

While on the job, she claimed he called her “bitch” and “ho” among other things, and after a year and a half of such treatment, she decided she had had enough and sued for sexual harassment. She was fired.

It a widely publicized case, Anucha Browne again showed us that the workplace is not always fair in its treatment of employees. She has been awarded a whopping $11.6 million in punitive damages – $2 million more than she asked for – in a sexual harassment case against New York Knicks head coach Isiah Thomas.

Browne, a former team executive, said that Thomas hugged her, kissed her on the cheek and invited her to leave the office to mess around – all of which Browne did not welcome and made her feel uncomfortable.

For his part, Thomas claims he is still innocent . But during a break in the legal proceedings weeks ago, Thomas was asked by a reporter if he would find it offensive for a black male “to call a black woman a bitch.” Thomas responded: “Not as much and I’m sorry to say, I do make a distinction.”

Well, Thomas has just learned that a jury of his peers doesn’t agree with his sentiments.

Perhaps now is a good time for everyone to take a step back and think about behavior and sexual harassment in the workplace. While women are often advised that pursuing claims of harassment may be more than they bargained for (look at how Browne lost her job after reporting claims), men argue that the boundaries of proper behavior are too blurry and they have a hard time keeping up with what they can and cannot do.

I once interviewed a sexual harassment expert, and she gave me some tips that I think provide a good roadmap for proper behavior, and what can get you into trouble on the job:

Do you kid around in a sexual way?
Do you generally direct your humor to members of the opposite sex?
Do you tell racy jokes no matter who is listening?
Do you think members of the opposite sex are less able than you are?
Do you frequently make remarks about how people look?
Do you use obscene language when things go wrong?
Do you tend to touch people when you talk to them?
Do you make comments that are a put-down to one gender?
Do you ignore the no’s when asking someone for a date until you get a yes?
Do you use sexual comments and gestures to intimidate people or gain power?
Do you ignore conduct that you really think could be sexual harassment?

As Browne said, “I think it really is a wake-up call to those in a professional working environment, to those that are not civil, to let women know they have recourse.”


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