Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol Tracy recently appeared on “At Issue,” a news program that airs Sundays on NBC10 in the Philadelphia market.
Tracy discussed the Weinstein story, the culture shift happening in the United States regarding sexual abuse, and legal protections available for people who face sexual harassment in the workplace.
NBC10: Tell us your reaction to all of this, when you first heard about the Weinstein scandal?
It’s not the first scandal of this type we’ve heard, but what we’re seeing … in the last 5 or 6 years, from campus activism to Cosby to Weinstein, is that women are simply saying we’re done with it, we’ve have enough of it, and we’re not going to put up with it. That’s pretty remarkable I think … We’re seeing a cultural shift that is quite dramatic.
NBC10: You bring up the legal aspects of it. What are the laws in our area that protect people from sexual harassment?
If one is in the workplace, laws throughout the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts protects employees in situations where there are at least 15 employees. In Pennsylvania, we have the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which protects employees where there are four or more employees, and in Philadelphia there just has to be one employee. So there are different remedies that are available under all these laws.
NBC10: If there are four or fewer [employees] what happen then?
If they don’t live in Philadelphia, they [may] have limited recourse. There are a number of jurisdictions in Pennsylvania and surrounding states that [have changed and are] changing their laws as they did in Philadelphia. [Essentially, it’s a patchwork of protections across the state.]
It’s also important to remember that some of the behavior that is called sexual harassment is also criminal behavior. Sexual assault, unwanted touching, up to penetration, up to rape, it can be a criminal violation as well as a civil violation.
NBC10: There are resources available to those who feel they may be a victim. Talk about some of those.
There’s the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), where one can file a complaint on one’s own. Same with the Human Relations Commission in Philadelphia, and the state Human Relations Commission, and of course people can secure their own legal representation.
We at the Women’s Law Project can help guide people if they need information by calling our telephone counseling service at 215-928-9801, and we can help direct people to the appropriate resources.
NBC10: Do cases like the Weinstein case, and other allegations against prominent figures like Bill Cosby, does it make women more likely to break their silence and come forward? Because shame is a key component in this.
We’ve lived in a culture that has blamed women. We’ve lived in a culture that certainly looked at rape as the fault of the victim.
… I might add that the sexual harassment laws also apply to all genders and gender identity, so if [the harassment] is based on sex—if [the victim is] a gay man, or a transgender person—under our laws in Pennsylvania they are protected. There are also cases, albeit they are rare, that women harass men based on their sex, connected to some event that is sexual in nature.
The behavior can range. It can be an environment that has become hostile because there’s constant dirty jokes, constant pornography, issues like that. So there’s a continuum [starting] on that end, at the other end of the continuum, there’s rape. The remedies available to people also go along those continuums.
So if a person in a workplace and she feels pornographic pictures and constant joking is offensive, she files a complaint with her employer, the employer may reprimand the people who were doing this and say, ‘Stop it, stop it now, and if you don’t stop it, you’re going to get fired,” and give them warnings, and if they don’t stop it, then they fire them.
But certainly an environment that’s hostile per se, or “on its face,” is if sexual assault occurred. So those kinds of issues require great action on the part of the employer.
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