Document 6J: Ellen Yacknin, "Force the Law to Fight for You," Labor Pains, 1, no. 1 (August 1975), p. 6.

Force The Law to Fight For You

   You've worked for the same company for seven years. You've just gotten a new male boss who happens to be the octopus type. He puts his hands on you. He stares at you with x-ray eyes and an x-rated mind. It's driving you crazy! You're reluctant to complain directly to your boss because you need your job and you're afraid of being fired. So what are you supposed to do about it?

   Laws exist to fight the abuse of power inherent in sexual harassment, but they have not yet been fully tested or adequately implemented. The law should be able to help women, but unless women are determined to exercise their legal rights, the law will remain only so many words lying on a sheet of paper.

   Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, whose role is to enforce Title VII, has recently ruled that sex- based intimidation in the workplace constitutes a discriminatory practice and is therefore prohibited. Furthermore, EEOC has filed a brief in a current Arizona case (Corne & DeVane vs. Bausch & Lomb, Inc.) on behalf of two women who had quit their jobs because of sexual harassment by their supervisor. In its brief, the EEOC contended that Title VII does prohibit sexual harassment on the job: "Congress in enacting Title VII clearly intended to prevent the toleration of such sexually motivated conduct from being a term and condition of employment. For if Title VII does not provide such elementary protection against sexually motivated conduct, its promise to women is virtually without meaning."

   Workers' Compensation laws may also provide a vehicle for holding an employer liable for his sexually harassing activity. The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that employees can collect Workers' Compensation benefits for psychological injury brought on by psychic trauma. This ruling means, theoretically, that a woman who becomes psychologically affected by her employer's sexually motivated actions or remarks could claim compensation for the trauma.

   What about unemployment insurance laws? New York State allows an employee to collect unemployment insurance if she quits for "good cause." In Carmita Wood's case, currently pending, the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board will have to determine whether unwanted sexual advances are an "intolerable job condition" constituting "good cause" to leave one's job and thereby entitling her to collect unemployment insurance.

   No woman should have to tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination. There are measures you can take to begin to fight back. First of all, please come talk to us. That's why Working Women United exists. There are women in the organization who are familiar with the law and who are willing to discuss your situation with you. They can explore your options and their consequences with you. Secondly, write down everything that happens, from the seemingly irrelevant details to the most blatant acts of harassment. Include dates, times, and places wherever possible. Your record will be important to help you recall facts as well as to demonstrate that the discrimination actually occurred. Lastly, tell someone what's going on so that (1) you'll be able to say that you did complain about the discrimination, and (2) you'll have potential witnesses and supporting statements. If you can't complain directly to your boss (or even if you can), complain to another supervisor, to the company personnel or grievance office, and to as many co-workers and friends as possible. By complaining about your situation, you will have established your position for the record.

   The Law can be an effective mechanism to attack sexual harassment when no other method, such as pleading with your boss or giving him a good kick, will work. But the law will not evolve to the point where it adequately protects women from sexual harassment unless women force the law to move in that direction by bringing case after case to court and making sure that the public knows about it. Whe this happens, our employers will be forced to admit that we, as women, mean business and only business!

by E. Yacknin


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