|Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism| Gender & Justice Project |Sexual Harassment of Teens at Work | Interactive Map|
Sample cases: Where are working teens being sexually harassed … and suing for it?
Sexual harassment: Few people understand how intrusive, aggressive, and hostile it can be. And few teens are prepared to face it on their after-school, weekend, or summer jobs. Few teens know what to do when a supervisor begins to talk ceaselessly and intimately about their bodies and lives, discussing sex acts in detail, propositioning mercilessly, and groping, grabbing, stalking, threatening, or sexually assaulting them.
This map is an illustrative, not comprehensive, look at sexual harassment of teens on the job. Clicking on this map will give you a glimpse of what’s involved, and of how widespread it is—across the country, affecting a broad spectrum of teens, occurring in every kind of employer.
For the reasons explained below, the great majority of cases shown here involved the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency in charge of policing workplace discrimination. And yet the EEOC files a national total of approximately 400 lawsuits each year—litigating only 2 percent of the claims about all workplace discrimination that it believes to be valid (see below). That suggests that this map reveals a little more than 2 percent of all sexual harassment lawsuits in which working teens collected a settlement or award after complaining about sexually hostile treatment on the job, and being ignored by their employers.
Those are just the cases in which teens filed lawsuits. Social scientists have concluded that very few victims of sexual harassment file formal complaints. How many more are being harassed and not asking for help?
Methodology: how we found these cases.
How often are teens being sexually harassed on the job? How often do employers stop the harasser—and how often do they allow the harassment to continue? No broad study has yet been done on this population. Through a variety of forms of research, The Schuster Institute has collected a number of teen sexual harassment lawsuits. However, collecting even this small sampling of teen sexual harassment lawsuits has been extremely difficult, for several reasons:
• No national or state database exists of sexual harassment lawsuits. No person or entity is tracking the number of complaints, lawsuits, or outcomes.
• No state or federal antidiscrimination agencies track sexual harassment complaints by age. Although the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) keeps statistics on how many sexual harassment complaints are filed each year, those complaints are not broken down by age.
• Enforcing the nation’s employment laws has been privatized. The EEOC reports that individuals file approximately 80,000 discrimination complaints each year–of all forms, not just sexual harassment. After investigating, the EEOC concludes than an estimated 20,000 (or one in four) were actually discrimination under the law. But the EEOC does not have the resources to go to court every time its investigation suggests a discrimination complaint is valid; it litigates only 400 cases a year, or roughly 2 percent of complaints it believes to be valid. Enforcement is thus outsourced to private employment lawyers. Private lawyers have no legal obligation to inform the public that they have won teen sexual harassment lawsuits, and often have a financial incentive to keep the information private (see below).
• Most private sexual harassment lawsuits settle with confidentiality clauses. If an employer pays a significant amount in response to a teen’s sexual harassment allegations, the settlement agreement usually includes a gag clause that prevents that teen from publicly discussing the allegations, the lawsuit, or the amount awarded.
• Attorneys, parents, and teens are concerned with the teens’ privacy. Sexual harassment victims, like rape victims, can feel ashamed of how they were treated—and worried about how others will perceive what happened. Teens, who are still developing emotionally, may be even more vulnerable and in need of privacy. As a result, parents and attorneys may go out of their way to protect the victim from further shame and prevent the lawsuit from becoming publicly known.
• What this means for our map: most of the lawsuits shown here were conducted by the EEOC, which—in exchange for the fact that the public is paying for the lawsuit—will not accept confidentiality clauses as part of the outcome. This tiny proportion of probable cases therefore must stand for the rest.