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Brace for new wave of harassment lawsuits

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in Centerpiece,Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

judge with gavelIf the recent past is any indication, employers may soon be seeing an increase in sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits.

Reason: When it comes to sexual harassment litigation, media coverage prompts more employees to call their attorneys.

In recent weeks, the news has been full of lurid tales of workplace sexual harassment. That’s likely to spur others to come forward.

The drumbeat of harassment coverage began this summer when former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Roger Ailes, at the time the head of Fox News. He resigned in the wake of Carlson’s suit, which was filed under New York City’s anti-discrimination ordinance and named Ailes personally as a defendant.

On Sept. 6, it was reported that Fox News’s parent company 21st Century Fox had agreed to a settlement with Carlson in which she will receive $20 million, plus a public apology from corporate leaders.

Within a few weeks of Carlson’s lawsuit, dozens of other Fox employees came forward with their own sexual harassment claims.

In August, former Fox News commentator Andrea Tantaros filed her own lawsuit, claiming harassment by Ailes, star anchor Bill O’Reilly and other on-air personalities. Court papers called the Fox News set a “sex-fueled, Playboy mansion-like cult.”

Some Fox News staffers who came forward had apparently settled similar claims in the past for seven-figure payouts, and spoke out despite having signed confidentiality agreements.

The rush of headlines makes now a good time to review your anti-harassment practices.

If you haven’t offered sexual harassment training lately, schedule it. Remind everyone that you won’t tolerate any form of sexual harassment. Reinforce that anyone who believes they have been harassed should report it in accordance with your reporting policy.

Explain that sexual harassment includes hostile work environment claims and quid pro quo claims. A sexually hostile work environment is one that’s permeated with sexual innuendo, talk and demands for favors. Quid pro quo claims arise when a supervisor conditions a job, promotion or other benefits (or threatens withdrawal of the same) based on participating in sexual activity.

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