New research out of UMass Amherst finds that employees face high risks and few benefits in making legal complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The study found that 68 percent of employees who file sexual harassment complaints face some form of retaliation by their employer. Nearly two-thirds lost their jobs within a year.
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey is Director of the UMass Center for Employment Equity and co-author of the report. He says the consequences of filing legal complaints often outweigh the little financial compensation that they only occasionally result in.
“It’s high risk,” he said. "Three-quarters of people don't get any monetary settlement at all. The median, among that quarter who get anything, is less than $10,000. The legal route does not compensate either for the harassment, or for the very frequent loss of job."
Tomaskovic-Devey said researchers also found that just 12 percent of harassment charges result in agreements to change workplace practices, which is what most employees actually want.
"They want to change the workplace so that it's better for their coworkers. If you go down the legal route, you're likely not going to be able to solve the problem,” he said.
The researchers analyzed over 46,000 harassment claims sent to state Fair Employment Practices Agencies and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Those cases represent just a small fraction of all sexual harassment incidents that occur in the workplace.
Researchers say the EEOC is taking sexual harassment charges seriously, but the findings suggest that sexual harassment should be addressed proactively in the workplace through trainings in managerial practices.