The #MeToo movement on social media has emboldened the victims of sexual harassment — both women and men — to come forward and tell their stories. Men from the entertainment industry to the capitol have stepped down in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. But what happens to the victims of sexual harassment when the boss is a woman? Does the law protect men too?
In this blog post I will discuss the allegations of sexual harassment against congressional candidate Andrea Ramsey of Kansas. I will review the laws regarding sexual harassment and how they apply when the boss is a woman. I will also explain how men can respond to sexual harassment at work.
On December 15, 2017, news broke in the Kansas City Star of another #MeToo sexual harassment scandal. The news outlet reported on a 2006 sexual harassment lawsuit relating to the local Democratic candidate for Congress. But there was one major difference between this story and the allegations against Representative Conyers or Republican candidate Roy Moore. This time, the candidate was a woman: Andrea Ramsey.
In 2005, Ramsey was the executive vice president of human resources for a private company called LabOne. One of her male subordinates, Gary Funkhouser, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming Ramsey sexually harassed him and retaliated against him for rejecting her sexual advances. The complaint alleged that Ramsey (then Andrea Thomas) subjected him to "unwelcome and inappropriate sexual comments and innuendos." It said she made sexual advances toward him on a business trip, and that when he refused them she stopped talking to him and his performance reviews were suddenly far worse. On June 13, 2005, he was fired.
The EEOC performed an investigation, and was unable to conclude whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act had been violated. However, it also didn't exonerate LabOne or Ramsey's conduct. Instead it notified Funkhouser of his right to sue, which he did.
Ramsey was not named as a party in the federal lawsuit because she was not the employer, LabOne was. She was therefore not involved in the defense of the case or any settlement negotiations. She continues to deny the allegations, even after the company eventually settled the sexual harassment lawsuit in 2006.
Now, the settlement has become public in response to the #MeToo movement and has caused Ramsey to withdraw from the 2018 congressional race. She told the New York Times that the Democratic Party had implemented a "zero tolerance standard" against sexual harassment allegations and was refusing to support her. On December 15, 2017, she officially ended her campaign.
The facts in Funkhouser's allegations are not that unusual in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Plaintiffs across the country face unwanted sexual advances by their supervisors. All too often, when employees reject these advances, negative performance reviews and retaliatory firings are the result.
However, male employees are sometimes less likely than their female counterparts to complain when sexual harassment happens. Cultural differences can make it more embarrassing for men to publicly object to sexual attention by the women around them than women in the same position, particularly when the woman is their boss or supervisor. Because of this, some men may believe there is nothing they can do to prevent sexual harassment when the boss is a woman.
In fact, these forms of sexual harassment are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, no matter which genders are involved. Sexual harassment when the boss is a woman is just as illegal as when a man does it. When men face sexual harassment at work, including being fired for refusing sexual advances, they can be compensated for their losses through the EEOC, or in federal court.
If you are facing sexual harassment from your female boss, an experienced employment discrimination attorney can meet with you confidentially to help you develop your claim and protect your rights. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our sexual harassment attorneys will help you collect your documents, file the necessary claims, and represent you in court. Contact us to schedule a consultation. We stand up for you against sexual harassment, even when the boss is a woman.