There are many sources for what to do and what can happen after a person is fired because of the biases of his or her supervisor or employer. The appropriate response to gender discrimination and sexual harassment is often to terminate the harasser’s employment. But what happens after a person is fired for gender discrimination is a question troubling advocates and academics across the country.
The #MeToo movement is two years old. During that time, the victims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination have stood up, many for the first time, against their politically powerful abusers. #MeToo and #TimesUp advocates have toppled heavy hitters in nearly every industry, including film-makers, writers, and scientists.
Now, as the dust settles, academics across the country find themselves wondering what to do with the pieces of what is left. Teachers and professors find themselves trying to decide what to do with the works of people who have been accused of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. At the University of California, San Diego, theater major Savanah Lyon circulated a petition calling for the university to cancel its “The Films of Woody Allen” course after the film-maker was said to have assaulted his adopted daughter. At Bowdoin College, Associate Professor Nadia Celis wrestled with what to do about author Junot Diaz’s novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” while the author was investigated for unwanted sexual contact at M.I.T. Similar questions have arisen over Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby”, Chuck Close’s “Big Self-Portrait”, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s work on astrophysics.
The question for these educators is whether to shun the works of those who have been accused of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, or to teach the works anyway, putting the work in context with discussions of abuse and power. There are advocates on both sides. Ms. Lyon told the New York Times:
“When you teach works like Woody Allen’s you’re normalizing and romanticizing the culture of abuse he was part of. . . . It’s not censorship to be selective when you choose the art you teach.”
Others worry that by erasing the works of people accused of this misconduct, they could accidentally be silencing racial minorities or cutting students off from would-be role models.
Employers face similar questions when charges of gender discrimination happen at work. Because sexual misconduct is often an expression of power, those accused often have sway and influence in the workplace. When an employer’s investigation reveals those allegations to be true, the employer has a tough decision to make: whether to fire the person doing the harassment, or the one reporting the abuse.
State and federal anti-discrimination laws make it illegal for an employer to fire someone because they report gender discrimination, or are involved in an investigation into sexual harassment. But it still happens. That’s why Title VII and the New York Human Rights Act include a separate right to sue for retaliation by an employer. If your boss decides it is easier to fire you than to investigate your claims or deal with your harasser, you have a right to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the New York State Human Rights Commission, or state or federal court.
But what if your employer does the right thing and fires the person who harassed you? What happens to them after they leave the position? Most will likely find new employment somewhere else. Some professionals, like sports physician Larry Nassar may lose their right to practice their trade.
Depending on the nature of the gender discrimination or sexual harassment, you may also have individual claims against your abuser. Physical sexual abuse carries serious criminal consequences, as well as civil claims for assault. If the gender discrimination included spreading false rumors about you or damaging your reputation, you may have claims for libel or slander. In New York, if your coworker spread sexually explicit images of you around the office, you could also have a “revenge porn” claim against him or her.
What happens at your office is possibly more important than what happens to the individual fired for gender discrimination. Especially if you continue within the same working environment, you will want your employer to do more than remove one bad apple. That is why an employer’s reasonable response to gender discrimination often includes company-wide anti-harassment training and improved reporting and investigation procedures. These steps show your fellow coworkers that what happened was not acceptable, and helps to avoid continued gender discrimination from other sources.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our gender discrimination attorneys look beyond getting a person fired for gender discrimination. We want to help our clients be compensated for the harm they suffered and help to change the climate of harassment and abuse in their workplace. We will identify strategies and push for changes at work to help prevent repeated discrimination. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.