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Heidi Harris: Why Don’t More Women Sue for Harassment?

By Heidi Harris

In light of the Bill O’Reilly departure from Fox News, which he continues to attribute to “left wing forces” trying to bring him down, many people asked, “Why did all these women wait so long to say anything?” I think I have an answer.

Women in the workplace are subjected to many things that aren’t even related to sexual harassment, as are men. It’s part of this thing we call life. We all have to put up with unpleasantness to reach our career goals. Rude bosses, treacherous co-workers and promotions awarded to less qualified people are part of the tapestry for everyone, but litigation must always be carefully considered.

In Gretchen Carlson’s case, her strategy was well thought out. She chose to sue Roger Ailes personally, rather than Fox News, to avoid an arbitration clause. Very smart. And she got a life changing amount of money, which makes a difference at the tail end of your TV career. For most women, however, the amount of money they could get in a settlement is insignificant.

Even if you get $1 million for example, after taxes that’s not much more than a year’s pay in a place like New York, and if you never work again, was it worth it? Fair or unfair, no matter how legitimate your lawsuit, once you sue, you’re forever known as the “girl who sues” and no one wants to hire you. They’re terrified that if someone says, “You look nice today”, you’ll be in HR filing a complaint.

Keep in mind that in many cases, the person whose comment or behavior might require HR involvement is not the owner of the company, but the company’s still on the hook for everything anyone in the building might say or do. Naturally they’re leery when you’ve got a history of suing, whether it’s a Workers Comp claim or anything else.

Women can usually handle sexual comments themselves, and they should. Sexual harassment is nothing more than a form of adult bullying, and if a bully finds a weak target they’ll take advantage. Most sexual comments aren’t really related to a “sleep with me or else” mentality, but even if they are, should you sue?

You have to be strategic when building a career, and you must constantly weigh the benefits of the job versus what you’re willing to put up with. Some jobs are more stressful than others and the environment may not be what you’d prefer, but if you’re gaining skills and working towards a goal, the benefits outweigh any other considerations.

For example, an extra long commute or a tyrannical boss can be tolerated if you keep your eye on the prize, (and your resume updated). And when a company has a reputation for being tough, those who persevere look even better to potential employers.

Of course men shouldn’t hit on women in the workplace or make lewd comments, but once again, many of those situations can be handled one on one. If you sue and the creep is more powerful than you are, the company will simply write you a check and send you on your way. Does that solve anything?

When deciding to complain or sue, be certain you have your finger on the pulse of the corporate culture. If numerous people have complained about him and nothing has changed, the only change you’ll see will be in the trajectory of your career. If all you’ll get is a few months’ pay and the bum’s rush, I wouldn’t recommend it. You might feel better about speaking up, but you have to pick your battles carefully, or you’ll lose.

Heidi Harris

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