This past week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged Daimler Trucks North America with illegally firing April Holt the day after she complained about sexual harassment.
According to the complaint, a male coworker asked Holt if he could borrow her wrench, which was in her back pants pocket. While she was bent over a truck on the assembly line, he reached into her pocket, taking the wrench while also rubbing her buttocks.
Holt complained about the incident to her team leader, who relayed the complaint to the production supervisor. The very next day, the EEOC says, the company decided to fire her, and the commission says it was because of the complaint. If so, that would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about discrimination.
The EEOC’s suit came just weeks after it charged Dollar General with a similar action. It says that Laveta Crawford was “subjected to a barrage of lewd comments and gestures” by a male assistant store manager on a daily basis. The harassment continued even after she complained, but after she filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, she was fired within a week.
Sexual harassment on the job, while illegal, is still very common, particularly for women. There were 7,256 EEOC charges in 2013, and there were over 11,000 in 2011 when EEOC charges were combined with those made at state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies.
These figures undercount the actual problem given that many women don’t report harassment — and it’s no wonder why, given how often it appears that employers fire them when they speak up. It’s also expensive to bring a lawsuit. But in a recent survey, one in five women said they’d been sexually harassed by a superior and one in four said they’d been harassed by a coworker. One in three teenagers say they are harassed at work. In some industries, women practically can’t escape it: nearly 80 percent of women in the restaurant industry say they are harassed by customers or by coworkers, while two-thirds have been harassed by managers, many of them dealing with it on a weekly basis.
Harassment can have serious consequences, both for workers and companies. Experiencing sexual harassment can increase rates of stress and depression, decrease an employee’s productivity, increase her time away from work, and result in her leaving her job. That turnover and lost productivity in turn costs employers. It can also, of course, result in big legal fees if suits are successfully brought against them.