Sep 29 2021
Josh Goodbaum: Hi Amanda.
Amanda DeMatteis: Hi Josh, what are we gonna talk about today?
Goodbaum: I thought we could talk about sexual harassment. Serious topic, obviously an important one. A lot of what we do in our practice, and I thought we could talk in particular about people who are afraid to come forward with what’s going on in their workplaces. There are a lot of employees; they’re almost always women, though I have represented men who’ve been subjected to sexual harassment, but usually, it’s women. Almost always, it’s men perpetrating the sexual harassment. And for a lot of women who are working in a hostile working environment, they are finding it intolerable. They know this situation can’t go on, but they are terrified that if they complain, if they hire a lawyer, if they even talk to a lawyer, that they’re going to lose their job.
And for a lot of women, women out there who are living paycheck to paycheck, who are single moms, or whose spouses don’t work, or who are taking care of other family members, or who don’t have a support network of extended family or friends who can help them, they know, “I can’t afford to lose my job. I need this job, and so I’m just going to put up with whatever I have to put up with to be able to take care of my family and put food on the table.”
And often the way that those women end up in our offices is a family member or friend will see them struggling, realize that this person is not sleeping, they’re nauseous all the time, they’re having panic attack, they’re just not themselves anymore, and they need to go talk with a lawyer.
Alright, so let’s say that woman ends up in your office, Amanda, she’s terrified, she doesn’t know what to do, but she’s working in an environment that is illegal, the sexual harassment is pervasive, and she’s got to figure out a way through it.
DeMatteis: The first thing I do is applaud that woman for the strength to be sitting in my office. Right? Because that is a huge first step, and it’s a first that so many women don’t take until they feel like their back is so firmly pressed against the wall that they can’t do anything else and there’s no other option for them. So kudos for speaking out, recognizing that this conduct is unacceptable, and wanting to do something about it.
Of course, the next thing we talk about is: This isn’t your fault. The position that you’ve been put in is not because of anything you’ve done, it’s not because of anything you haven’t done. This is a predator who is treating you wrongfully and unlawfully in the workplace, and we really try to home in on that to make sure that women know that from the get-go.
The other thing is, although we aren’t doctors, it’s clear that a lot of these women are experiencing a lot of emotional distress, right? As you explained, they’re not sleeping, maybe they’re not eating, they’re anxious; it’s infiltrating every other aspect of their lives, so go talk to your doctor about it. Right? If your foot was broken, you wouldn’t just stay home and say, “Geeze, my foot’s broken and it really hurts.” You’d go and you’d get some help, you’d go talk to an orthopedic. It’s no different here. If you’re suffering mentally, go out and talk to your doctor about it, and take care of yourself. These are the most critical things that we can do.
The other thing that’s so important is to know that, even if you’re working paycheck to paycheck, even if, you know, you are supporting your whole family, there are options that we have. What are some of those potential options? If you and your employer are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act under either state or federal law, that might get you some time that is protected away from the workplace, and what does that do? Well, it protects your job so it’s job security but also it lets you hit the pause button and stop this tornado from spinning in your head, lets you sit back, analyze what’s happening from a reasonable and rational standpoint and try to decide what can I do to help myself and to help my family in this situation. So that’s always an option. It also gives employment lawyers like Josh and me the opportunity to talk to your employer, talk to your employer’s counsel, and try to work a solution that maybe will separate you from this employer or maybe will stop this pervasive sexual harassment from continuing in the workplace, whatever that may be, depending on the facts.
The other option is maybe under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if you qualify for a reasonable accommodation or leave pursuant to that, depending on what you and your doctor decide on. It’s another way to, again, hit that pause button, get you out of this environment so you can see clearly and try to reasonably get through this thing.
Goodbaum: What we’ve realized, what so many of us have realized, what employment lawyers already do, is that sexual harassment is not just a serious problem, it’s a fairly common one. There are a lot of women who work in environments that are unacceptable. We know that from the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up movement over the last few years, but the reality of sexual harassment cases is that they are almost never litigated. They don’t even get filed, let alone get to trial, right? Almost all of these cases result in confidential settlements, and that’s because it is often in everyone’s best interest to reach that kind of settlement.
So, what that means is that when we approach an employer and say, “You’ve got a serious problem here, here’s what one of your managers has been doing,” or we approach a small, even if we approach a small company and say, “Hey, owner, CEO of this company, here’s what you’ve been doing that’s illegal,”’ the response from the employer is almost never to retaliate. The response rather is to look for a constructive solution, and generally, that begins with placing the employee, with her consent, on a paid leave, because that allows her to get out of the workplace, right, but to continue having that income, and it allows her to work with her counsel to try to craft a solution. So far from thinking, “I know how these people are. They’re definitely [going to] retaliate against me, they’re definitely going to fire me if I come forward at all. I can’t even talk to a lawyer,” think, “I have nothing to lose by talking to a lawyer and probably I have a lot to gain.” Right?
So, this is an opportunity for you to think constructively with your counsel, with an employment lawyer like us or somebody else, about how we can improve this situation because you recognize if you’re in this situation that it isn’t tenable. You can’t just continue doing what you’re doing, not because you’re not strong, not because you’re not tough, but because the situation is impossible. So, if you find yourself in this situation, please reach out for help. There are people out there who can help you, who can help you explore solutions and find the one that’s right for you.
DeMatteis: And remember, even a consultation, just an initial consultation or conversation with an employment lawyer to get this type of information is confidential. It’s protected under the attorney-client privilege. Your employer doesn’t need to know about it, nobody needs to know about it. So you have the opportunity to get good sound, legal advice to help you sort through a really serious issue and you can do that completely confidentially.
So, you’re not alone. This may be the first time you were going through a situation like this. Unfortunately, Josh and I see it far more often than we’d like, and we’re privileged to be living in the #MeToo era because so much of this is just intolerable to our society at this point. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. So if it’s happening to you, we’re here, we’re happy to listen, we’re happy to try to offer you some solutions and put you in a better position than you’re in right now.
Goodbaum: Thanks so much, Amanda, great advice.
DeMatteis: Thanks Josh, see ya.
Goodbaum: Okay, buh-bye.
Posted by Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. in Commentary
Tagged Amanda DeMatteis, Joshua Goodbaum