California workers who are protected by laws against sexual harassment would not have had that coverage just a few decades ago. For many years, women in the workplace had little choice but to put up with sexual harassment or quit. There was not even a single word that described the experience until a group of women came up with the phrase “sexual harassment” in 1975. It was soon popularized by media, and in a survey done by Redbook magazine, 80 percent of women reported that they had been sexually harassed in their workplace.
There was resistance to the idea that women were not somehow culpable in harassment, but feminist attorneys worked hard to get legislation passed. Also instrumental was the director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the time, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who worked toward making workplace equality laws protect women. Three court cases had ensured that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act included protection from sexual harassment for women by the late 1970s.
In 1991, sexual harassment once again became part of the public conversation when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated and faced accusations from Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her. While Thomas was ultimately confirmed, Hill’s revelations highlighted a problem that continues to this day.
As the Anita Hill case demonstrated, a person who accuses another of sexual harassment may not always be believed. People who feel they are being a target of such unlawful behavior might want to speak to an attorney about what constitutes sexual harassment and how to document it. Women may be concerned about potential retaliation such as a demotion or termination, but that is prohibited as well.