WBA Issue Statement On Sexual Harassment

The WBA believes that unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment1. The legal profession is not immune to the sexual harassment that is endemic to our
society. Sexual harassment has grave consequences for our profession, contributing to loss of talent and alienation of women lawyers and law students.

Between 90 and 95% of women who have been sexually harassed suffer from a debilitating stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders, weight loss or gain, nausea, lowered self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction. In addition, victims of sexual harassment lose $4.4 million in wages and 973,000 hours in unpaid leave each year in the United States2.

Sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as many state and local laws and must be strictly prohibited. Whether perpetrated by a supervisor or a co-worker, sexual harassment cannot and should not be tolerated. Sexual harassment takes different forms, including:

  • Verbal – Sexual innuendoes, suggestive comments, jokes of a sexual nature, sexual propositions, or sexual threats.
  • Non-Verbal – Sexually suggestive objects or pictures, graphic commentaries, suggestive or insulting sounds, leering, whistling, or obscene gestures.
  • Physical – Unwanted physical contact, including touching, pinching, brushing the body, coerced sexual intercourse, or assault.

The WBA believes that law firms, corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and other employers must create clear and fair institutional procedures under which allegations of sexual harassment can be brought, assessed, and acted on. In this regard, the WBA agrees with the EEOC’s position: “Prevention is the best tool for the elimination of sexual harassment. An employer should take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”3

For over 100 years, the WBA has provided a platform for the voices of WBA members and all women lawyers on these important topics, and it will continue to do so. In 2018, the WBA co-sponsored “#MeToo: Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Legal Workplace” and “Sexual Harassment In The Workplace: Recognize It and Stop It,” a thought-provoking discussion of recent cases holding powerful men accountable for sexual harassment and what the
legal profession can do to ensure these events and the advent of the #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #Equality movements transform our workplace and advance equality to permanence. The WBA also announced a new campaign—called #OurVoices—that pledges the WBA’s support for every person who has experienced sexual harassment or a #MeToo moment and promises swift action from the WBA in the form of programming, policy statements, social media
campaigns, and more, to achieve workplaces that are free of sexual harassment. The WBA is committed to working with other thought leaders to promote a dialogue to find policies and solutions that foster a safe, productive work environment.

1 About EEOC: Facts about Sexual Harassment, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm.
2 Stop Violence Against Women: Sexual Harassment-The Effects of Sexual Harassment, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, hrlibrary.umn.edu/svaw/harassment/explore/4effects.htm.
3 Sexual Harassment, 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(f) (1999).