The EEOC’s Harassment Prevention Efforts Should Be Highlighted In The Wake of The Harvey Weinstein Debacle

The headlines in the news these last two weeks involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has put the spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.  But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been attempting to focus our attention on the issue of workplace harassment for over a year now, when it issued a study of harassment in the workplace, in an effort to “reboot workplace harassment prevention efforts.”  The “Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace” (“the Report”) came out in June 2016, finding that workplace harassment remains a persistent problem and too often goes unreported.   The Select Task Force consisted of two EEOC commissioners as well as outside experts from employer, employee, human resources, academic, and other communities. The focus of the report, authored by co-chairs Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, was unwelcome or offensive conduct based on a protected characteristic under employment anti-discrimination law.   The Report noted some interesting statistics regarding the prevalence of harassment-based complaints. In 2015, the EEOC received approximately 28,000 charges that alleged harassment from employees working for private or state or local government employers, and 6,741 charges from federal government employees. Broken down by protected characteristic, sex-based harassment was most prevalent in…

Federal Proclamation Effect on The Status of Employment Discrimination Laws in California

On October 4, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that under his interpretation of Title VII, gender identity and transgender status are not protected. According to Attorney General Sessions, “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.” The phrasing causes some pause, given that, in 1998, the United States Supreme Court held in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that Title VII also applies to harassment between members of the same gender. The Justice Department recently made the same argument with respect to sexual orientation at oral argument before the Second Circuit in Zarda v. Altitude Express. This is a significant departure from the Obama Administration as well as the current position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which interprets Title VII to prohibit such discrimination. While this topic continues to be debated, employers may be struggling to confirm they are in compliance with the ever-evolving legislation. Background Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits, in relevant part, discrimination and harassment “because of […] sex.” Title VII does not, however, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status, or gender expression. Until recently, Circuit Courts of Appeal unanimously interpreted the term “sex”…