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A Brief History Of Sexual Harassment

Evening Edition

Aired 7/25/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Patti Perez, President/CEO Puente Consulting, former Commissioner on California's Fair Employment and Housing Commission

Doreen Mattingly, Associate Professor of Women's Studies, SDSU


The allegations against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner have been picked up by the national media and lumped into stories about other political sex scandals.

But there's a substantial difference in what's been alleged about Mayor Filner. He's not being accused of having a mistress or paid escorts. Women are accusing Mayor Filner of sexual harassment.

There appears to be some confusion about what sexual harassment actually is.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

It's not that long ago that there was nothing illegal about this type of behavior.

Here's a look at some key dates:

  • 1964-Civil Rights Act, Title VII, included ban on employment discrimination based on gender
  • Mid-1970's, feminist activists and lawyers coined the term 'sexual harassment'
  • 1977-President Carter appoint Elanor Holmes Norton Director of EEOC. She creates policies that define sexual harassment as sex discrimination
  • 1986- Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, Supreme Court defines sexual harassment to include both quid pro quo and hostile environment, focus on unwelcomeness
  • 1988-Lois E. Jensen v. Eveleth Taconite Co., First Class Action Sexual Harassment Suit Filed
  • 1991-Anita Hill Testifies about being sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas
  • 1991 – Civil Rights Act of 1991 provided the right for jury trials and for increased damages in sexual harassment suits
  • 1998-Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, and Burlington v. Ellerth courts concluded that employers are liable for harassment by their employees
  • 1998-Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, set the precedent for same-sex harassment

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Avatar for user 'eradbami'

eradbami | July 25, 2013 at 12:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

I have been deeply disappointed at how KPBS has handled the allegations against the Mayor. Most of the coverage has been one-sided and focused on the salacious, more like Jerry Springer than responsible journalism. I know that Filner has refused to comment, but there are certainly parties to interview who could provide, for example, a nuanced evaluation of the legal issues behind the complaints. Today's Midday Edition is the first coverage I've heard on KPBS, or elsewhere for that matter, that has started to fill in some of these big gaps in journalism. Kudos to Maureen Cavanaugh.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 25, 2013 at 2:35 p.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

•Mid-1970's, feminist activists and lawyers coined the term 'sexual harassment'

Well, of course, just like GBLT hardliners it's a product of the New Left. And in this case, if true, it may back to bite those left of Center.

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Avatar for user 'outdoorguy'

outdoorguy | July 25, 2013 at 4:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

So if I attempt to kiss a woman and she says no then I'm guilty of sexual harassment?

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | July 25, 2013 at 4:13 p.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

The reason sexual harassment accusations are difficult to prove is due to a lack of evidence, and/or credible witnesses. Nothing about this looks good for Filner, but in a court of law he is innocent until proven guilty, and the judge and jury will have to weigh on this when it's presented. The way things are moving along I would not be surprised if the mayor wins a change of venue for proceedings. Doesn't look like he'll get a fair trial in San Diego now or ever.

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Avatar for user 'sacooper'

sacooper | July 25, 2013 at 6:28 p.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

Only one of the 7 women appears to be an employee, so neither Titles VII or IX (1991) would apply to the other 6. A best, the 6 might have a sexual assault claim.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | July 26, 2013 at 1:04 a.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

Every time I wear my skin-tight, green, cock-tail dress to work, I am expecting to get some attention. I don't always get a whistle or some pinching, but when I don't, I feel like I've failed to achieved my goal. That's why I wear a skirt, so people can see my legs and curves. I show some skin to affect people psychologically, that's why I let my hair down. I can't help the fact that people find me attractive, but I can use it to my advantage.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | July 26, 2013 at 1:06 a.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

"Sexual Harassment" that doesn't 'rise to the level of illegality'?
If it's not illegal, then why are we here? it's not really harassment, it's an annoyance.

True Sexual Harassment, MUST BE:
1) Sexual in Nature
2) Unwelcome Conduct (i.e. the 'victim' must prove they are offended, usually via communicating with the alleged perpetrator by documenting and reporting the event)
3) Severe or Pervasive (repeated, 5-10 times)
4) Unreasonably interfere with one's ability to do their job (implying an employee relationship)

And the above is for civil lawsuits, it is not criminal sexual assult.
By these standards, based upon the gossip, Filner isn't guilty of any 'sexual harassment.
These women are not victims.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | July 26, 2013 at 1:08 a.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

The issue here, if we are honest, is that any form of harassment is SUBJECTIVE, based upon the "victim's" opinion. If the alleged events (kissing, hugging, fanny pats) were from someone that the person was interested in romantically, then this wouldn't be harassment.

What has happened here is a bunch of women have projected their personal experiences with men onto the Mayor. And the Republican PR flack, the Fundraising Lobbiest, and the Author Psychologist are all trying to use this for their own self-interest. Promoting themselves, their businesses, and their issues in the press.

The problem here is the lack of due process, as a your biased journalism fuels a political Coup d'état.

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Avatar for user 'philosopher3000'

philosopher3000 | July 26, 2013 at 1:08 a.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

KPBS is party to the problem. If you asked these women some hard questions about their true motives, or their sexual history, then we could say you were being unbiased journalists and looking for the facts instead of spreading hearsay and gossip. I would settle for having at least ONE male on these Sexual Harassment panels, or even an unuttered male dog in the studio.

Your expert says:
"The problem, IF THESE ACCUSATIONS ARE ACCURATE, is the mayor."
(that's a pretty big IF, "IF" = speculation, "IF" = fiction, "IF" = nonfactual, "if" you were ethical journalists this wouldn't be happening)

Maureen Cavanaugh, when you start asking leading & loaded questions like "Isn't it, in a sense, infuriating to read something like that?" you've left journalism behind. You should be ashamed. "Infuriating" doesn't have multiple 'senses'. For example, if someone lies about you in public with the intention of harming you, it is INFURIATING (but it's also libelous defamation of character).

You might want to ask the next person who accuses the Mayor of anything if they have made such allegations before? See you at the next KPBS corporate fundraiser.

(now go CENSOR this comment, because you have the power and are infuriated)

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