Despite the existence of laws specifically designed to provide a cause of action for employees who make complaints about work practices that they reasonably believe are discriminatory and/or sexually harassing, the majority of employees will not complain. Most will not report discrimination or harassment to management and, if at all possible, will avoid voluntarily testifying to any wrongdoing by their employer.
A number of women have recently come forward with complaints of sexual harassment against those with the power to affect their careers. Countless others are attesting to having experienced the same through social media’s #MeToo on Twitter. In some instances, these women are bringing allegations of sexual assault and abuse that took place several decades ago. Why is this happening?
Some no longer care what their employers think, including those who have retired or moved on to other ventures where they can now speak out fearlessly from a place of emotional confidence and economic security. But this does not explain why their public emergence at this time has significance or is even relevant to the initial claims they made. For many who are coming forward now, the statute of limitations for bringing legal action on their claims has long since passed so they lack a chance at justice for themselves. More important is whether the “#MeToo” campaign can help prove sexual harassment for those whose claims have been timely brought. The simple answer is, it depends on the judge assigned to one’s case and the jurisdiction in which your case is filed, but it likely can be used in some way.
Merely pointing to others who allege past sexual harassment against your employer is not sufficient to prove your own allegations, but the existence of these other women and the descriptions of harassment they provide is relevant to demonstrating a general attitude of disrespect towards women that your employer allows to exist, as well as to giving examples of a specific actor’s sexual objectification of women. That attitude in the workplace is relevant to the question of motive for the employer’s discriminating against you. This is especially true where your employer has retaliated against you for complaining about sexual harassment but denies having taken such action.
There is a chance that the judge could exclude evidence of others’ being harassed because it is more prejudicial than probative but, if allowed, it is powerful evidence that would be difficult for the employer to overcome.