January 15, 2018
This past year saw an unprecedented turn of events throughout all sectors of American society as the victims of sexual misconduct came forward to make their voices heard. Women and men went public with stories of sexual abuse and sexual harassment that prompted organized movements to change the “business as usual” atmosphere that encouraged silence rather than action in response to misconduct. California legislators will now get their turn to make a difference by taking a close look at laws that have made it difficult for the victims of sexual misconduct to have their day in court.
Legal hurdles when sexual misconduct complaints go to court
Fourteen million women responded to a poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News by admitting to being victims of sexual abuse. The numbers were more than double when the women were asked about sexual harassment in the workplace. Thirty-three million women acknowledged being the target of workplace sexual harassment.
It is surprising, given the number of victims revealed by the ABC-Washington Post poll, that only a small percentage of them, National Public Radio reports it as being as low as 5 percent, report the incident. One reason, according to NPR, is difficulties victims face when they pursue a remedy through the court system with only 6 percent of the cases ever going to trial.
California lawmakers seek changes
California legislators are holding hearings on whether the burden victims now have of proving offensive conduct was severe or pervasive in order to win in court should be relaxed. Other bills being introduced include:
- Increasing the time within which a victim of sexual harassment may file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing from the current one-year limitation.
- Establishing a system for tracking sexual harassment complaints by employers to identify behavior patterns.
- Addressing the issue of the use of non-disclosure agreements to shield offenders who settle sexual harassment claims.
- Protecting individuals who come forward to report sexual misconduct by granting them whistleblower status to prevent retaliation by employers.
- Non-disclosure agreements restrict the ability of the victim of sexual misconduct from publicly discussing or revealing the terms of an out-of- court settlement or disclosing anything about the underlying misconduct. Non-disclosure agreements are not, however, the only impediment to identifying patterns of sexual misconduct and misbehavior.
Arbitration clauses keep offenders out of the spotlight
Gretchen Carlson was an on-air reporter at Fox News who went public with her allegations of misconduct by the head of her network. Doing so took some legal maneuvering by her attorneys because her employment contract contained a clause requiring all disputes involving her employment to be handled through private arbitration instead of through the court system.
Carlson is pushing for federal legislation restricting the use of arbitration clauses. She believes arbitration keep employee complaints a secret and prevent of identification of patterns of misbehavior.
The dedicated attorneys at The Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, have been aggressively pursuing claims for victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse for more than 25 years. Our knowledge of the law and experience allow us to develop innovative strategies to obtain maximum compensation for our clients. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.