San Diego Mayor Bob Filner agreed to resign after 18 women accused him of sexual harassment. For more than seven weeks, Filner stood in the center of a whirlwind of accusations, press reports and a lawsuit that stemmed from his admittedly inappropriate behavior. Filner's saga illustrates how claims of sexual harassment can be extremely emotionally charged for all parties involved.
What exactly is sexual harassment?
In his resignation speech, Filner admitted to inappropriate behavior, but he challenged whether the conduct was illegal. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) explains that sexual harassment is comprised of visual, verbal, or physical sexual conduct or otherwise unwanted sexual advances. To fully understand the scope and depth of sexual harassment in the workplace, the DFEH lists the following as violations:
Physical conduct such as assault, the touching of genitalia or the blocking of entrances to prevent the victim from leaving
Threats to the victim of reprisals after sexual advances are rejected
Verbal conduct including derogatory comments, slurs and epithets. Verbal sexual harassment also entails sexual propositions
The offering of employment benefits or advancements in exchange for sex
Visual conduct such as displaying sexually suggestive objects, cartoons or pictures or making sexual gestures
Sexual verbal abuse such as commentaries about an employee's body or using degrading words to describe a person
Sexual advances not desired by the victim
California clarifies the definition of sexual harassment
In August, California enacted a new law clarifying that under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), a plaintiff is not required to show that sexually harassing conduct was motivated by sexual desire. The law was implemented in response to a California Appeals court decision in Kelley v. Conco Companies. Patrick Kelley was hired as an apprentice ironworker. At work, he was subject to graphic, vulgar and sexually explicit verbal remarks. However, absent evidence of an expression of actual sexual desire by the harasser, the court did not consider the actions to be illegal sexual harassment.
Defending charges of sexual harassment can be complicated and challenging.