For weeks, allegations of sexual harassment have dominated the headlines. And powerful men like TV anchorman Matt Lauer, have lost their jobs over it.
Did they break the law? In other words, is sexual harassment illegal?
For answers, I'm digging into the law and interviewing Professor Mike Maslanka from the UNT-Dallas School of Law. He's written six books on employment law issues.
“Is sexual harassment illegal?” I asked him.
“Yes,” Maslanka said.
It's illegal because of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That law famously outlawed racial segregation in schools. But, under Title 7, it also protects women in the workplace.
Okay, so how is harassment defined?
In Texas, courts have ruled a hostile work environment needs to be "severe or pervasive" (Page 9)
“Severe means one incident, if it’s severe enough and harsh enough and shocking enough,” Maslanka said. “Maybe even physically threatening to another human being. That severity can constitute a hostile environment and harassment,” he added.
How about "pervasive"?
“Every day you go into work, and there are jokes being told about sexuality. Women made fun of because of their bodies. If that goes on, day in and out, that is pervasive,” said Maslanka.
So, if sexual harassment is illegal, how come no one's getting arrested?
That's because it breaks a civil law, not a criminal one. That means, a victim can sue for damages, but unless it crosses the line into assault, you can't be arrested.