The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its 2012 Enforcement and Litigation Statistics which provides that while the number of sexual harassment claims filed has decreased from 7,809 in 2011 to 7,571 in 2012, the percentage of charges filed by males has increased from 16.1% to 17.8%. Although the majority of EEOC sexual harassment charges are filed by women, this increase in charges filed by men is significant.
It is not clear whether more men are being subjected to harassment or more men are willing to come forward, but it is possible that both scenarios are contributing to this steady rise. In recent years, more women have begun to occupy high-level managerial and executive positions thus altering the traditional dynamic between supervisor and employee and potentially resulting in more sexual harassment of men. It is also possible, and more likely, however, that men are increasingly being harassed by male co-workers and supervisors and these men are now feeling more comfortable complaining than male employees did in the past. Sex harassment can consist of unwelcomed offensive conduct such as a man being teased for being gay or being perceived as gay based on sex-stereotypes of how a man should or should not act.
Not surprisingly, men began filing more complaints of discrimination and harassment following the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1998 case of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services. In this case, a male oil-rig worker claimed that he was subject to gender based harassment by his male co-workers. The Supreme Court held that Title VII’s protection against workplace discrimination “because of sex” also applied to workplace harassment involving members of the same sex and that “sexual desire” was not required to prove such claims. The law protects all victims of harassment the same, whether based on a same-sex claim, male to female or female to male. Sexual orientation discrimination and harassment is also protected, including transgender and/or gender orientation claims.
Most likely, however, the frequency of workplace harassment against men has not significantly changed; rather men are now actively reporting such offensive and discriminatory treatment since society’s norms have somewhat relaxed and has reduced the stigma of making such complaints. In addition, many companies have become more proactive in their handling of sexual harassment complaints by offering seminars, written policies, and other such information to employees on how to best handle these situations. By making this information widespread, companies are removing the stigma that only women can be the victims of such treatment. This stream of information could contribute to more males understanding and utilizing means of reporting sexual harassment.
Although the exact reason for the rise in males reporting sexual harassment is unclear, it is important that employees and employers understand the impact of such illegal conduct and that both men and women continue to take advantage of any available avenues to make such complaints, both internally and outside the workplace.