Making unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks, sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical assaults of a sexual nature are sexual harassment when they are directed at a subordinate employee or a job applicant. Employers can be held liable for sexual harassment if they knew or should have known that harassment was occurring in the workplace but failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment.
A Tallahassee sexual harassment attorney with the Cruz Law Firm can meet with you for free to review your situation, explain your legal options, and tell you what our firm can do on your behalf if you have been sexually harassed at your workplace. Contact us today to set up a free, no-obligation legal consultation.
The “#MeToo” movement, which has led many people to publicize their personal experiences with sexual harassment and abuse, has raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence. Several high-profile cases of sexual harassment pre-dated and led to the #MeToo movement and positive change in our country.
Here are six notable sexual harassment cases:
Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas
The country’s first high-profile sexual harassment case unfolded live on television over several days in 1991 when law professor Anita Hill testified before a U.S. Senate committee that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A committee of 14 white men, chaired by then Sen. Joe Biden, grilled Hill and Thomas, both of whom are African American, as well as several witnesses testifying on Hill’s behalf. Thomas, who was ultimately confirmed, called the hearings a “high-tech lynching.” After the Thomas hearings, Hill was condemned by many and faced death threats. She has since continued to teach, write and work as an advocate for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, employment discrimination, and other forms of gender violence.
Florida State University and Jameis Winston
The case of Erica Kinsman v. Florida State University and Jameis Winston pits a previously anonymous college girl against one of the country’s largest universities and its superstar football prospect, who she says raped her in late 2012 when they were both students. At the time, Winston was a freshman who had not yet played a game for FSU. He would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top individual honor, lead FSU to a national championship and play for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kinsman alleged that FSU violated federal law by refusing to investigate and by covering up her allegations of sexual assault as well as a second woman’s report of sexual misconduct by Winston. In December 2015, a student conduct hearing cleared Winston of wrongdoing. A controversial documentary, which aired on CNN in November 2015, alleges the police knowingly did not investigate the accusations fully in order to protect the FSU football program. In January 2016, FSU agreed to pay Kinsman $950,000 and commit to five years of sexual assault awareness programs and greater transparency. Kinsman agreed to drop her Title IX lawsuit against the school, which alleged that university officials concealed and obstructed the sexual assault investigation so Winston could play football.
Fox News and Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes was a long-time Republican politico who created the Fox News network. In July 2016, Gretchen Carlson, a former anchor of the network’s “Fox & Friends” morning show, filed a lawsuit alleging that Ailes, Fox’s chairman and CEO, fired her for refusing to sleep with him and for voicing her objections to what she considered a discriminatory workplace. Ailes denied her claims. The network said it would investigate but had full confidence in Ailes. Within days, six other women came forward with similar allegations of sexual harassment, which Ailes denied. Fox hired a law firm to investigate and, ten days later, announced that Ailes would resign. Ailes reportedly received a $40 million severance package. Other women employed by Fox continued to allege sexual harassment by Ailes and file lawsuits against him. In September 2016, Fox News settled with Carlson for $20 million and publicly apologized. Ailes died on May 18, 2017. The multiple allegations against Ailes helped set the stage for the #MeToo movement.
Fox News and Bill O’Reilly
Bill O’Reilly was the biggest star on Fox News and a best-selling author. On April 1, 2017, The New York Times reported that Fox News and O’Reilly had paid $13 million to a total of five women who worked or appeared on his show to dissuade them from pursuing litigation or speaking out publicly about their sexual harassment claims. The Times’ investigation cited a lawsuit filed by Andrea Mackris, a former producer of “The O’Reilly Factor,” which was settled in 2004. O’Reilly claimed “no wrongdoing” in that case. As additional allegations against O’Reilly came to light, Fox News announced on April 9 that the law firm that had investigated Roger Ailes would investigate O’Reilly. Fox announced ten days later that O’Reilly would leave the network.
Movie producer Harvey Weinstein was the epitome of a Hollywood powerbroker. Film production and distribution companies he founded helped to reinvent the business model for independent films. His movies earned more than 300 Oscar nominations. In October 2017, a report in The New York Times revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein. Days later, The New Yorker published the stories of several of Weinstein’s alleged victims, including allegations of rape as well as harassment. Weinstein’s 20-plus years of sexual harassment had been an open secret, but in the following weeks and months, as more and more self-proclaimed victims of Weinstein and others came forward, #MeToo became an international movement. Weinstein has since been found guilty of sexual misconduct in New York in February 2020 and sentenced to 20 years in prison and found guilty of rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles in December 2022 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Weinstein, who is 70 years old, maintained his innocence at his Los Angeles sentencing hearing and has appealed his convictions.
Andy Rubin and Google
In 2018, after The New York Times revealed Android creator Andy Rubin had received $90 million in severance money even though several employees had filed sexual harassment allegations against him, some 20,000 Google employees around the world walked out of work in protest. Rubin’s departure had been announced internally in 2014 without the reasons being specified. Protesters called for Google to end forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases, a practice that required employees to give up their right to sue and often included confidentiality agreements. In September 2020, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced a $310 million settlement in a shareholder lawsuit over how it had treated allegations of executives’ sexual misconduct. The settlement agreement prohibits severance packages for anyone fired for misconduct or after a sexual misconduct investigation. Instead, a special team will investigate any allegations against executives and report to the board’s audit committee.
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in a Florida workplace, contact Cruz Law Firm in Tallahassee to discuss how we can help you hold those responsible accountable.