Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More men claim sexual harassment

As job loss worsens and societal norms change, men filing sexual harassment claims against either male or female supervisors have become a bigger share of workplace discrimination cases handled by federal officials statewide.
In 2009, the number of men who filed sexual claims, 73, comprised 19 percent of all sexual harassment cases in Tennessee, a significant upturn from 53, or 12.3 percent, in 2000, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace discrimination laws. Overall claims fell from 431 to 385.

EEOC officials say comprehensive data aren't available, but it appears the majority of claims in most states involve same-sex harassment in which male supervisors are accused of bullying male employees.

Nashville attorney Teresa Bult said the recession and a difficult job market are among other reasons more men have filed sexual harassment claims.

RelatedChart: Increase in sexual harassment claims filed by men

It also has been easier for men to sue other men for such offenses since a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court case that involved a Louisiana oil rigger sexually harassed by male co-workers offshore to the extent that it created a hostile work environment.

In more traditional office settings, as women increasingly fill management jobs it has sparked more opportunities for men to sue female supervisors for "reverse harassment," said Michael Russell, an attorney with Gilbert, Russell & McWherter.

"It's still rare, but it's happening more than it used to," said Russell, whose firm filed lawsuits on behalf of two males who accused male supervisors of harassing them.

"Males may still have an uphill battle because there is still the stereotype that men can take it more, and aren't really offended, when comments are thrown their way," said Bult, an attorney with Constangy, Brooks & Smith.

'A pretty new area'

Same-sex harassment usually involves men bullying other men or what the harassers perceive as "horsing around," attorneys said. Sometimes, the victim is a worker who is perceived as effeminate or gay, they said.

Bult, who typically represents employers in cases, has defended five sexual harassment cases filed by men in the past 10 years, most of them involving men suing men.

In one case, a worker sued his male manager, claiming he'd made sexually harassing comments. In another case, a heterosexual worker sued his gay boss for showing him pornography, saying he was offended by the manager's conduct and lifestyle.

Bult also defended a beauty salon when a gay male worker sued his female supervisor for inappropriate touching.

"It's still a pretty new area of law," Bult said.

"Sometimes when employers are doing sexual harassment training, they forget to focus on the idea that sexual harassment can sometimes not look like what you think it should," she said. "If a male brings a complaint to their attention, they need to take it seriously."

Contact Bonna Johnson at 615-726-5990 or

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