Written by: Daun Lee
Brooklyn, NY- Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez has been involved in a sexual harassment scandal for the better part of a year or more, but details of the allegations against him remained relatively unknown until now that two reports on his conduct have been released.
The Joint Committee on Public Ethics has completed their investigation and concluded that not only was Lopez a serial harasser, but the State Assembly took steps to keep the many allegations against him secret and allowed the misconduct to persist for several months, the New York Post reported.
According to the 67-page JCOPE report, Lopez harassed at least eight women who worked for him in his Brooklyn office, and awarded those, who were compliant with raises and gifts, while trying to sabotage those who were resistant, the Post reported.
The scathing report states that Lopez forced female staffers to massage his tumors—Lopez is suffering from cancer— and asked they spend the night with him in hotels as well as repeatedly groped them. The overly frisky lawmaker also asked the women, who were mostly younger in their late teens and early 20’s, to wear low-cut blouses and skimpy clothing to the office.
The Post detailed the allegations of one woman who said Lopez forced her to massage tumors on his neck, shoulder and armpits, cajoling her by saying that he “was dying” and “needed her.” The report also stated that Lopez would “force intimate contact” by repeatedly rubbing the women’s thighs and subjected then to persistent sexual comments and advances.
One woman even contracted pink eye after Lopez forced her to put drops in his infected eyes.
When a 14 year-old girl was hired to intern in the politician’s office, another woman overheard the 71 year-old pol complain about the state’s statutory rape law as he admired the young woman, the Post reported.
On top of the pattern of harassment, Lopez would shower the women who endured his behavior with gifts, raises and promotions, while trying to punish the women who complained about the harassment.
“Lopez engaged in a pervasive pattern of abuse of public office and resources, not for personal financial gain, but to indulge his personal whims and desires,” the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics wrote.
Not only was Lopez’s behavior inappropriate, but another report from the Staten Island’s Attorney General Dan Donovan found that the NY Assembly, Sheldon Silver in particular, attempted to keep the harassment secret and allowed it to persist for several months before taking action. Even worse is they refused to forward the case to their own ethics committee, subjecting more women to Lopez’s vile behavior.
“My investigation revealed that . . . the chief concern of those in the Assembly was mitigating the Assembly’s damages,” Donovan wrote. “That goal outweighed any interest in investigating or disciplining Assembly Member Lopez or in preventing similar occurrences in the future.”
Though Donovan’s report accused both Lopez and the Assembly of unethical behavior, he did not find their actions to be criminal; stating that the $103,000 secret settlement paid to two of the harassed women was appropriately negotiated and awarded.
Written by: Daun Lee
Fort Hood, TX-The American military is facing a second sexual assault scandal in just a mere week, indicating that past efforts to combat assault and harassment have been ineffectual. Yesterday, the Army announced that an unidentified sergeant first-class assigned to the sexual assault prevention program at Ft. Hood in Texas.
According to CNN, the soldier is under investigation for “pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.” An administrative official told CNN that they are investigating the “distinct possibility” that some “prostitution-related activity” was involved.
So far no charges have been filed against the soldier but he has been suspended from duty. Investigators for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command have not determined the scope of the prostitution claims or whether any there has been any criminal misconduct, CNN reported.
The soldier had already been assigned the Sexual Harassment/ Assault Response and Prevention program when the allegations surfaced.
This revelation came just one week after a high-ranking officer in charge of the Air Force’s sexual harassment and assault prevention program was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman in the parking lot of a Virginia bar.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested and charged with sexual battery following the incident.
Krusinski’s arrest and this new report angered Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who met with Army Secretary John McHugh and ordered him, “to fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations and to ensure all those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately,” Pentagon press secretary, George Little, told the Associated Press.
Hagel also instructed all branches of the military to retrain and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel.
“I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” George Little said.
The sexual harassment and assault problem within the military is not a new problem, but it has reached fevered pitch over the past couple of weeks.
In addition to the arrest of Krusinski and the Army investigation, an anonymous survey conducted by the military estimated that 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted in 2012. However the military as whole only received 3,400 official complaints of assault and harassment, indicating that past efforts to halt sexual misconduct in the military are failing. Out of the complaints, 800 of the victims sought help, but refused to file a formal charge against their attacker.
Congress is also beginning to take notice of the military’s sexual assault problem.
“This is sickening. Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we’ve seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators,” Sen. Patty Murray, (D-WA), said. “It’s an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims – who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults – that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes.”
Lawmakers such as Senators Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI) are working on legislation to fight this rampant problem in the military.
Written by: Daun Lee
Missoula, MT- A letter from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to the University of Montana has some activist groups worried that the federal definition of sexual harassment is too broad and that a student simply asking a person out on a date would be in violation of a university’s sexual harassment policies, at least that is what constitutional watch-dog group FIRE says.
According to FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the language used in the letter to the University of Montana is unconstitutional and overreaching.
President of the FIRE, Greg Lukianoff, said in press release, “In 2011, the Department of Education took a hatchet to due process protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. Now the Department of Education has enlisted the help of the Department of Justice to mandate campus speech codes so broad that virtually every student will regularly violate them.”
FIRE is referring to language included in the DOE and DOJ letter sent to the university which defines harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” even if an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation” would not perceive the behavior as offensive.
Technically, that means a student can be accused of harassment if they simply ask a person on a date, flirting or telling a joke of a sexual nature. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen, but it does dramatically change the definition of sexual harassment, and the letter clearly states that the new rules apply to all colleges and universities.
In the letter, the federal agencies explained that the University of Montana failed to adequately define “sexual harassment” and “assault.” It also addresses changes to the federal standard which defines a hostile work environment and the burden of proof for the harassment victim.
The letter states, “The University’s Sexual Harassment Policy defines ‘sexual harassment’ as conduct that ‘is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to disrupt or undermine a person’s ability to participate in or receive the benefits, services, or opportunities of the University, including unreasonably interfering with a person’s work or educational performance.’”
Instead of requiring the “pervasive” and “repeated” standard on the university campus, the Departments of Justice and Education say that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.’” Adding, “Defining ‘sexual harassment’ as ‘a hostile environment’ leaves unclear when students should report unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature and risks having students wait to report to the University until such conduct becomes severe or pervasive or both.”
The broad change in the definition of sexual harassment on college and university campuses have come in the wake of numerous scandals, involving a handful of colleges and universities, including the University of Montana and Yale, who failed to adequately investigate and address incidents sexual harassment and assault of their students.
Did the DoJ and DoE go too far in redefining sexual harassment, and do you think the new rules will be abused?
Written by: Daun Lee
Washington, D.C. – A Facebook Page that glorified sexual harassment and assault in the Marines has been yanked after lawmakers complained to the Pentagon, pointing out that the page was yet another example of the military’s lax attitude towards sexual harassment and assault.
The Facebook page in question contains sexually denigrating images of female Marines with vulgar captions. In one photo, a female Marine is bound and gagged. Although no one is certain who the page administrators is, but Marine administrators said “based on complaints that have been received, both active duty and reserve Marines have been involved; all instances are referred to commands for appropriate action,” according to USA Today.
Not only were the images graphic, but it also contained a death threat against California Representative Jackie Speier, and used the four-letter C-word when referring to the lawmakers who has pushed the Pentagon to treat sexual assault and harassment with more urgency.
“I am confident that if you reviewed the contents of this webpage that you would be horrified by the culture of misogyny and sexual harassment depicted on the web site,” Speier wrote in a letter she sent to the Pentagon, USA Today reported.
In that letter, Speier also wrote that pages like the aforementioned one and others like it, “contribute to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse.”
Speier was targeted because she has introduced at least three bills to combat sexual harassment, assault and rape within ranks of the military.
In April, Rep. Speier introduced the STOP Act, legislation that would put responsibility for handling everything from reporting to prosecution and victim care in instances of sexual assault in the hands Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, taking it out of the regular chain of military command, ABC News reported.
Sexual assault in the military has been an ongoing problem that military leaders have been trying to combat over the past few years. But even after the Pentagon set up programs that put high-level officers in charge of
Two stories this week broke the issue wide-open again. First, a high-ranking Air Force officer who was actually the chief of their Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit was arrested for sexually battering a woman in the parking lot of an Arlington, Virginia bar.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested and charged with sexual battery following the incident and was taken off the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit.
Also, this week a new report from the Pentagon showed that incidents of sexual assault in the military increased by 6 percent in 2012. The Pentagon estimates that close to 26,000 members military members were subjected to sexual harassment or assault last year, according to the result s of an anonymous survey.
It is outrageous that so many women who chose to serve their country are subjected to sexual misconduct, but the prevalence of assault and harassment is not exclusive to the military. According to the CDC, one on five women will be raped once in their lives, and six out of ten women are sexually harassed at work.
Written by: Daun Lee
Arlington, VA- The U.S. military’s sexual assault and harassment problem just got a little worse as the Air Force Officer in charge of sexual assault prevention has been arrested after grabbing the private parts of a woman in the parking lot of a Arlington bar over the weekend.
According to the Arlington Police report, “a drunken man approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks.”
The report also said, “The victim fought off the suspect as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested and charged with sexual battery following the incident.
This is a shocking arrest since Lt. Col. Krusinksi is the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told ABC News “[Krusinski] was responsible for writing plans and programs that supported victims of sexual assault,” the statement read. “He worked on prevention programs for sexual assault.”
Stefanek confirmed that Krusinski has been removed from his position pending an investigation.
This is yet another scandal plaguing the Air Force and the military as whole, prompting legislators to introduce bills that would help prevent sexual harassment and assault.
A new survey from the Pentagon released today showed that sexual assaults in the military increased from 3,192 in 2011 to 3,374 in 2012, representing a 6 percent increase. However the Pentagon estimates that roughly 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted according to an anonymous survey.
One in three women in the military will be assaulted, in contrast only one in six civilian women will be victims of a sexual assault.
The military defines sexual assault as behaviors that range from harassment, inappropriate touching and rape.
A scandal involving officers at a Lackland Air Force base helped bring to light the ongoing problem the military has with sexual harassment and assault.
In the Lackland incident, at least 31 women came forward and accused close to a dozen boot camp instructors of sexual assault and harassment. One of the instructors allegedly raped and assault at least 10 women.
In the wake of the Lackland scandal and alarming statistics showing the prevalence of sexual assault in the military, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appointed a two-star General to oversee the military’s sexual assault training and reporting policies. Lt. Col. Krusinski was one of the officials tasked with developing policies to protect victims.
Protect Our Defenders, a group that advocates for military members told ABC news that Krusinski’s arrest highlights the “long standing and pervasive” problem of sexual assault in the military.
“If these allegations are true, this is one more example on a long list of how fundamentally broken the military justice system and culture are. The idea that the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) could be arrested for sexual assault indicates the depth of the problem. It’s outrageous,” the group said in a statement, according to ABC News.
Written by: Daun Lee
Miami, FL- Sexual harassment and discrimination are toxic to a workplace it effects employee morale and can create long-term emotional issues for the victim. This inappropriate behavior also comes at a great cost to employer especially if they are subjected to a lawsuit. Even though on any given day you can read about new harassment allegations, lawsuits and settlements, men and women report harassment much less than people think.
Many people would like to believe that they wouldn’t put up with any type of harassment at work, but the reality is that many incidents go unreported.
According to NBC/Washington Post survey from 2011 found that six out of ten women admitted to being subjected to some form of sexual harassment whether it is inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, or leering at least once in their working lives, yet the EEOC only receives on average 30,000 complaints of sexual harassment each year.
This means that many people are just letting the harassment pass instead of reporting the offender. A study conducted last year by a Maya Risman law firm of New York wanted to find out why people refuse to report harassment.
According to the ABC/Washington Post survey, 29 percent of the respondents felt the harassment was too insignificant to report. No incident of harassment is too insignificant to report to supervisors, but if the victim is seeking monetary damages, they must prove the harassment was repeated and prevalent.
The Risman firm study found that after surveying 9,000 professional women that although 92 percent of the respondents had been subjected to sexual harassment many of the victims were are afraid to report sexual harassment because they know or knew someone who has been fired or forced to quit after reporting an incident, so many of these victims don’t report because they cannot afford to lose their jobs. Although sexual harassment complaints by men have grown, male employees often refuse to report harassment, only 16 percent of the complaints the EEOC receives come from men.
Seventy five of Risman’s respondents admitted they would report harassment because they believe nothing would be done to stop the harassment. This is also true since the majority harassment cases allege that an employer failed to protect their employees from the harassing behavior and create a hostile work environment.
“A victim may minimize what’s happening to them, they may have very legitimate concerns about losing their job, perhaps they feel what’s the use of reporting it because ever other woman here is having the same experience,” said Jennifer Marsh of the Rape, Abuse and Iincest Network.
Employees do often encounter speculation when they report sexual harassment. Employers sometimes think allegations are frivolous and think that the complainant is incapable or taking a joke or are too sensitive.
Employers make a huge mistake in not following up on sexual harassment allegations by conducting an investigation and disciplining the harasser. Not only do they subject their employees to an antagonistic work environment, but they also face civil lawsuits which can become very costly.
Written by: Daun Lee
The Los Angeles Times reported that Christine Hougan, filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Johnson subjected her to inappropriate comments and used his superior position to intimidate her after her husband, who is a police officer, testified against department officials.
Christine’s husband, John Hougan was fired in July 2011, which he alleges was a result of his cooperation with investigation into departmental corruption and cronyism. Because of his cooperation, Hougan was subjected to a retaliatory internal investigation and was later fired as result of those investigations, the LA Times reported.
John Hougan subsequently filed a wrongful termination and retaliation suit which is currently ongoing. Christine Hougan’s lawsuit insists that Chief Johnson subjected her to intimidation after her husband filed his suit.
According to her lawsuit, Johnson called her into his office for a 90-minute discussion of the investigation into her husband’s conduct. The filing states that during that meeting, Johnson sat very close to Hougan and “used his position of authority to intimidate her,” the Times said.
Hougan’s suit says that in the following months Johnson would stand very close to her, telling her “I really like you,” which made her feel “uncomfortable and intimidated.”
Hougan says she came forward with the allegations on numerous occasions, but nothing was done about the misconduct.
The suit further alleges that the department used a particularly distressing incident to terminate Hougan. In 2011, she took a call that she found to be emotionally disturbing. Department documents state that after the incident, Hougan supposedly “engaged in conduct that was extremely disruptive to the Communications Center.”
Following this incident, Hougan was fired instead of being ordered to see a psychologist as department policy dictates, the Times reported. The lawsuit alleges, “The department chose to use her symptoms against her 11 months later in her termination.”
Christine Hougan was fired in February of 2012 after working for the department since 1990; the department said she had been working as a part-time employee since 2001.
City attorney Aaron Harp told the Times that he couldn’t comment directly about the two suits, but said, “We don’t believe there’s any truth in the allegations of Mr. or Mrs. Hougan.”
Unfortunately, retaliation often goes hand-in-hand with sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Each year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives thousands of complaints of harassment, discrimination and retaliation, even though employers are aware that these behaviors are not only illegal, but can be very costly if the victim decides to file a lawsuit. These types of cases often result in multi-million dollar settlements.
Last year, the EEOC received 37,837 complaints of retaliation; this likely just represents a fraction of actual incidents since many employees fail to report abuses in the workplace, and some of these abused individuals chose to file suits with the help of private employment law attorneys.
Written by: Daun Lee
Last year, seven women and one man filed lawsuits against Four Amigos Travel Inc. and Top Dog Travel Inc., two travel agencies that sell Florida vacation packages over the phone, alleging that the general manager of the Largo facility and eight managers subjected the women to daily sexual harassment
Four Amigos Travel and Top Dog have sales offices in Largo, Orlando, and Ft. Lauderdale.
In 2008, two women went to the EEOC and complained of a number of degrading and humiliating incidents. According to the initial complaints, during sales meetings, the sales manager would discuss “ways to please a woman.”
Among their many complaints, one woman claimed a sales manager forced his knee between her legs and made a vulgar comment and another sales manager pressed his body against a female employee saying, “That’s what I needed.” the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The women alleged that male managers would proposition female employees for sex in the restrooms and touched them inappropriately. The Tampa Bay Times noted that some of the harassment victims were older women up to age 61.
After an investigation, the EEOC determine the two women’s claims had merit and filed their lawsuit in 2011. At least five other female employees came forward with similar allegations and one male manager who was fired for reporting the harassment to the company joined in the lawsuit.
On Wednesday, after a two day trial a jury awarded $20 million to the eight complainants. The EEOC represented five of the plaintiffs, who will each receive $200,000 for damages and back pay; settlements for punitive damages in federal lawsuits are capped.
The other three plaintiffs including the manager, who was fired, had their own sexual harassment attorney and will receive a larger portion of the settlement since there is not settlement cap on private civil lawsuits.
“This was a long journey for these women who were forced to work under unspeakable conditions at this workplace,” Gregory Lee McClinton, the EEOC’s lead attorney in the case, said according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The settlement in this case was large, but the attorney representing three of the plaintiffs, Patrice Pucci told the Tampa Bay Times that the victims may have trouble collecting the settlement since the defendants didn’t even show up for the two day trial.
It is possible for the travel agency to appeal the judgment, especially if they think the judgment is too large.
Also last month a Washington D.C. judge overturned a multi- million dollar settlement awarded to female lifeguard who was harassed by one of her male supervisors. The jury was so disgusted by her treatment that they awarded her $3.5 million, but the presiding judge reverse the settlement stating it was “so great as to shock the conscience,” and that it was “inordinately large.” The judge offered the plaintiff a reduced settlement or another trial over the judgment amount.
Written by: Daun Lee
The initial case was filed by a Renee Mihalik, 42, against Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America Inc., a specialty brokerage firm and was seeking $5 million in compensation for sexual harassment and retaliation, according to NJ.com.
In 2010, a lower court threw out Mihalik’s case, stating that she failed to prove the workplace was hostile, and instead the harassment was “sporadic insensitive comments” and did not meet the federal burden of proof; harassment must be repeated and pervasive.
In the suit, Mihalik claimed Chief Executive Officer Ian Peacock subjected her to gender discrimination and used her poor performance to “humiliate” and coerce her into tolerating the sexually inappropriate behavior.
Peacock, on two occasions, propositioned Mihalik for sex and often commented on her appearance, calling her “sexy” and “promiscuous” because she was wearing red shoes. Her lawsuit also alleges the men in the office openly watched pornography on their work computers and rated the appearance of female coworkers.
Mihalik rebuffed Peacock’s advances, but she alleges that she was fired after confronting him about his propositions when he was criticizing her performance.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that a jury should hear Mihalik’s case, and that Credit Agricole Cheuvreux North America Inc. had sufficient proof that she performed poorly before she was fired in 2008, NJ.com stated.
However in the opinion written by Circuit Judge Denny Chen, the court said, “If a jury so found, it would be free to infer that Cheuvreux is using Mihalik’s poor performance now as a mere cover-up for retaliation,” NJ.com reported.
The court added, “Even a poorly performing employee is entitled to an environment free from sexual harassment. Mihalik’s alleged poor performance would not excuse Peacock’s alleged sexual advances and demeaning behavior.”
It is fairly common tactic of employers who are enmeshed in a sexual harassment and retaliation suits to claim the employee was fired for the lackluster performance, but in Mihalik’s case, the appeals court believed her retaliation case was valid and should proceed.
The court opinion said trial judges “erroneously” apply the federal standards instead of those outlined by the New York Human Rights Law, which extends protections to employees who are subjected to “unwanted gender discrimination,” and allows cases to proceed without the “pervasive and repeated” burden of proof.
Mihalik’s attorney Brian Heller explained the importance of this ruling, “A lot of times a company will point to performance like that’s the silver bullet,” he said, according to NJ.Com
“No one gives up their human rights because they don’t perform as well as the company wants. Even if someone is not a good employee, they’re still protected against sexual harassment,” Heller said.
Mihalik can now pursue the $5 million lawsuit against her former employer, since her less than stellar performance doesn’t excuse Peacock’s inappropriate and harassing behavior.
Written by: Daun Lee
New York, NY-Women who actively participate in feminist activism are more likely to be harassed at work researchers at the University of Michigan discovered in a new study. And what is most remarkable is that sex discrimination and harassment was more prevalent even if the woman had not openly identified herself as a feminist.
Lead researchers Linda Holland and Lila Cortina, wanted to determine if there was a connection between feminism and a woman’s experiences with sexual harassment or sexist behavior in the workplace, Phys.org News reported. Cortina and Holland theorized that women who were active feminists faced more gender discrimination and harassment because feminist ideology challenges the man’s traditional roles as the dominant sex.
“Feminism directly questions male privilege, so men may perceive feminist women as a source of threat,” Holland, a graduate student of women’s studies and lead author explained. “Men may therefore feel greater motivation to sexually harass women who endorse feminist ideology.”
The 424 women who participated in the study were asked a range of questions which allowed researchers to distinguish between incidents of sexual harassment—inappropriate comments and touching—and gender discrimination.
Of the 424 women, over half identified, 219, themselves as feminists, a smaller group about 40 percent did not openly identify are feminists but engaged in some sort of activism; such as signing petitions or donating money to women’s causes.
Seventy-nine percent of the women in the survey reported being sexually harassed in at least one incident in the past year. The self-identified feminists experienced less gender discrimination than the women who did not openly admit to being a feminist. However, the active feminists experienced more sexual harassment than the non-activist women. Holland believes this is because activism is an observable behavior while, identity is not, Phys.org News stated.
Holland explains the findings, “On one hand, behavioral displays of feminism could prompt sexist and sexualized hostilities from co-workers.” But, Holland says, “On the other hand, not engaging with feminism could increase the chance that women will suffer professionally if harassed, not to mention the fact that avoiding feminist activism diverts energy from a cause committed to advancing women in employment.”
The findings from this study correlate with previous studies that examined the role that power and status plays in workplace sexual harassment. In that survey the men and women surveyed said they believed that sexual harassment happens in the workplace because of power; the person in superior position may feel they can mistreat a subordinate without suffering the consequences.
So in the case of feminists, they could encounter more sexual harassment because men feel the need to reassert their power in the workplace.
That isn’t to say the men aren’t sexually harassed just like women. Regardless, of a person’s gender, personal views or sexual orientation, no one should have to endure any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Sexual harassment attorneys can make certain anyone who has been harassed can put a stop to the behavior and get compensation for their distress.