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Sexual Harassment of Men in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment of Men in the Workplace

Women on Man and Man on Man Sexual Harassment is a Growing Workplace Problem

There is no doubt that most cases of sexual harassment involve men harassing women. For many years this has been true because of the power differential. However, as more and more women move up the corporate ladder, reports of women harassing men have increased.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Sexual harassment at work is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance; or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

According to a study reported by Psychology Today, while over half of all women in the workplace report experiencing some form of sexual harassment on the job,  the issue of sexual harassment of men is starting to get more media attention.  

According to a recent survey, about one-third of all working men reported at least one form of sexual harassment in the previous year.  Of the 7,809 sexual harassment charges filed in 2011 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC), 16.1 percent were filed by men. By 2013, this had risen to 17.6 percent.  

As pointed out by Eve Tahmincioglu writing for NBC News, While the number of sexual harassment cases overall has consistently declined in the past few years, sexual harassment filings by men have consistently increased, doubling over 15 years, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Even though women filing charges makes up the bulk of the EEOC’s sexual harassment workload, men are becoming a bigger piece of the pie, with more than 2000 filing charges last year.

And these are cases that get to the EEOC. Many labor experts say men are less likely than women to speak up about such cases of harassment for fear of being mocked by coworkers, and even fewer would take the charges to a government agency and risk widespread knowledge of their plight.

The first ever court case involving sexual harassment of a man in the workplace was in 1995. The EEOC sued Domino Pizza after a female supervisor of a male store manager sexually harassed him and then fired him. “She would caress his shoulders and neck, and pinched his buttocks,” the EEOC said in a statement. The case went to trial in Tampa and the male manager was awarded $237,000 in damages.

Back in 2006, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against a Mississippi real estate company on behalf of a man who they say was “sexually harassed and retaliated against by his female manager.” The agency said the man, a maintenance worker in an apartment complex, rebuffed sexual advances from his female manager. As a result, she began a “pattern of retaliation against him, culminating in his firing.”

In another case a federal jury granted a $225,000 verdict to three men who said their manager at an Oxford, Miss., construction company sexually harassed them. The three male employees were truck drivers and they all complained about one manager whose behavior included “sexually offensive comments and unwanted physical contact.”

Man on man sexual harassment is also on the rise. On reason is some employers may view male-on-male harassment as ‘horseplay’ or ‘boys being boys’ but this kind of intentional discrimination can cause needless suffering and permanent scars for employees – not to mention creating liability issues for employers who violate federal law.

In a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1998, a Louisiana man who claimed he was sexually harassed by his male manager while working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico made it clear that men are protected from such harassment at work under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jonathan Pilkington, a food runner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, at DC Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona, said his male supervisor groped, fondled and otherwise sexually harassed him more than a dozen times. Pilkington claimed the boss wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  “It was very embarrassing,” Pilkington said. “I felt like I had to do something because the situation was just so bad.” In an EEOC settlement in December 2010, the steakhouse agreed to pay nearly a quarter million dollars and furnish other relief to settle the same-sex sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the agency.

In another case the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain agreed to pay $345,000 to six male employees who claimed they were repeatedly sexually assaulted by a group of male kitchen staffers at a Phoenix-area restaurant.  The EEOC said the abusers would drag some victims kicking and screaming into a walk-in refrigerator, touching and grinding against the victims’ genitals and take turns simulating rape. The company denied the allegations but agreed to make a financial settlement and educate its employees and managers about sexual harassment.

The biggest challenge for men is figuring out what to do when this happens. Some men, says relationship psychiatrist Paul Dobransky, will deal with the harassment head on and then shrug it off; while others get all tied up in knots and feel stuck. In the latter case, things will only deteriorate and probably lead to more harassment. The key, he adds, “is to set personal boundaries.”

Legal experts say that men who believe they are being harassed in the workplace should first confront the harasser. Tell them clearly and without wavering that you do not appreciate that type of behavior and you want it to stop. Don’t joke around with the individual and don’t be timid. Make it clear that you believe inappropriate comments or actions have created for you a hostile work environment.

If it doesn’t stop talk to your manager, but if the harasser is your manager, go above his or her head to their supervisor. Your next step if nothing is resolved is the HR office and then the EEOC if you get nowhere with that.

Sexual harassment is always wrong. It degrades the harassed victim and may cause permanent scarring. It has no place in an ethical workplace. One new form of harassment is through the use of social networking. In extreme cases it can become cyber-bullying. If you believe you are a victim of harassment, speak out right away. The longer you wait, the more your story may be doubted.

Respect is a basic ethical value in our society. The harasser not only disrespects the harassed individual, but harassing actions indicate that the guilty party has no respect for him or herself. As a society we should be above such behavior. The fact that it still goes on and victimizes both men and women is an indication that we have a long way to go to create a safe and healthy workplace environment.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 26, 2016. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

I want to acknowledge drawing from the work of Eve Tahmincioglu in writing for NBC News in developing this blog. An earlier version of this blog inadvertently omitted that source.