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Harassment raises red flag for future workplace discrimination

The #MeToo phenomenon has revealed that companies frequently ignore sexual harassment complaints. The removal of six high-level executives at Nike after female employees covertly surveyed their colleagues about workplace abuses highlighted years of inaction from the company's human resources department. In the view of one legal scholar, companies in Texas and nationwide should see harassment as the gateway to discriminatory complaints.

Companies appear to devalue complaints about sexual harassment because they tend to be difficult to prove in court. Many cases fall short of meeting legal standards, and courts have largely interpreted laws very narrowly. People in human resources recognize this and judge complaints as unworthy of attention because the company will likely not be held accountable for anything.

Sexual harassment, however, could eventually translate into outright discrimination against an employee on the basis of sex. For example, a supervisor who views a woman as inferior will likely pass her over for promotion. Companies could improve their records on harassment and discrimination by emphasizing to supervisors that they have a duty to avoid discriminatory decisions when hiring, promoting or firing people.

A person being mistreated at work could feel very isolated, especially if complaints have been ignored or resulted in retaliation. However, an attorney experienced in employee rights could explain how to take legal action. To build a case, the lawyer might gather evidence such as communications between the client and a supervisor, company policies, payroll records or employee evaluations. An attorney could communicate the complaint to the employer and suggest how to correct the problem through a financial settlement. When necessary, an attorney could pursue damages in court.

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