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Business Costs & Regulation

More Men Filing Sexual Harassment Charges

It's no joke, and employers risk costly claims if they treat it as one.

More men are filing charges of sexual harassment in the workplace, a trend that’s likely to grow as more women assume managerial positions that involve supervising men. Also contributing to the rise is the fact that it’s more socially acceptable today for a man to file sexual harassment charges, says Martha Zackin, a Boston attorney with Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C.

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Last fiscal year, men filed 2,031 sexual harassment cases -- about 16% of the total -- brought before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, compared with just 9% in 1992. Total payouts to men totaled $5.4 million in fiscal 2009.

In one of the costliest cases, national home improvement retailer Lowe’s paid $1.72 million to three employees -- two men and one woman. The harassment went on for six months and included physical and verbal abuse. Not only did Lowe’s fail to take remedial action, but the workers were fired.

In another case, Regal Entertainment Group, a national movie theater chain, paid $175,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint made by a male employee. The EEOC charged that the employee was subjected to a sexually hostile workplace because of a female coworker who repeatedly grabbed his crotch. The female general manager failed to take adequate steps to stop or prevent the harassment and instead took retaliatory action against the harassed worker.

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Employers need to treat sexual harassment complaints equally and seriously, regardless of whether the complainant is Jane Doe or John Doe. “Employers must take all charges seriously and not treat someone poorly because he made a good faith complaint,” says Zackin.

Supervisors, and especially new managers, should receive intensive training in what constitutes sexual harassment and how to keep it out of the workplace. “If managers don’t realize their behavior is creating a hostile work environment, they’ll continue to engage in that behavior,” says Rae Vann, general counsel at the Equal Employment Advisory Council.

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