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EEOC reports 12-percent increase in sexual harassment charges

Just a year ago, the first #MeToo complaints in relation to Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein hit the presses. Although the movement itself has been around for several years, it was likely the Weinstein accusations that initiated a deluge of sexual harassment and misconduct complaints against men in the media, politics and other fields. Thanks to survivors standing up and speaking out with credible allegations, a number of wrongdoers lost their positions of power. Some have even faced criminal charges.

The #MeToo movement isn't a court of law, however, and the outcome of #MeToo allegations is dictated largely by public opinion. That does not mean that the complaints do not have merit. Many survivors have chosen to file sexual harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or with state or local human rights agencies.

The EEOC received 12 percent more sexual harassment charges in FY 2018 than it did in FY 2017, according to preliminary numbers released recently. The EEOC's fiscal year ended on Sept. 30.

That increase represents a significant change. Since 2010, the number of sexual harassment complaints had been on the decline, according to agency numbers. Was it because sexual harassment itself was tapering off? Probably not. In a 2016 report, the EEOC noted that it was more likely that victims were reporting less often than that companies were successfully resolving complaints before they reached the agency.

The EEOC also noted that it filed 41 lawsuits last year that involved sexual harassment claims -- a 50-percent increase over FY 2017. It recovered $70 million on behalf of sexual harassment victims -- $20 million more than the previous year. Moreover, many complainants end up suing on their own after being cleared to do so by the agency, but no data is available on how many private lawsuits were filed.

Anecdotal data indicate that #MeToo has had an impact on the courts, however. According to Reuters, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia cited #MeToo when it revived a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a municipal secretary. The court pointed out that #MeToo made clear that many victims of sexual harassment don't speak up out of fear of retaliation and refused to block the case due to lack of reporting.

It's clear that the #MeToo movement has had a substantial impact on workplace dynamics and on victims' willingness to come forward. If you have been suffering sexual harassment or misconduct at work, we urge you to discuss your situation with an experienced employment law attorney.

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