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Are you guilty? Sex, laws and work-place rape - the issue of sexual harassment emerges from the closet.

It is the rare -- and lucky -- woman who will not experience sexual harassment at some point in her career.

The National Association of Female Executives polled its 1,300 members and found that 53 percent said they were sexually harassed by people who control their careers.

Abuses ranged from physical threats to more subtle forms of harassment such as sexual innuendo and even references to working women as "honey" and "sweetheart."

"That's just a compliment to the girl," some men say. "She should be flattered."

Others defend their male colleagues' actions by saying, "He didn't mean anything by that."

It's that kind of attitude that has kept 64 percent of the 1,300 females recently polled from speaking up or taking action against offenders.

There aren't precedents for sexual harassment cases in Arkansas because so few women go through the trial process.

"People call me about them, but they just don't bring them |to trial~ because there's no remedy," says Pamela D. Walker, a Little Rock attorney whose practice consists primarily of civil rights cases.

Several women contacted, even those with witnesses to their harassment, asked for anonymity lest their bosses retaliate or brand them as troublemakers.

Some believe Anita Hill's recent testimony against Justice Clarence Thomas will discourage women from going public.

"It's going to put a real damper on women coming forward," Walker says. "Women don't want to go through the harassment that Professor Hill did."

Those who do come forward are in for a battle.

"Companies would rather go to the mat with these kinds of cases than settle," says North Little Rock attorney Morgan "Chip" Welch, who has tried several sexual harassment cases and is president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

Welch says corporations hope to make the trial process as difficult and unpleasant as possible to discourage other women from filing suits.

But with sexual harassment cases becoming more frequent and more public, corporations in Arkansas and elsewhere soon will have to take a new approach.

A Costly Lesson

Just as some people refuse to take the reality of sexual harassment seriously, others take it to an extreme.

One local real estate executive won't go to lunch with a woman unless someone else accompanies them.

Is this an attempt to protect himself?

"You're damn right," he says. "I'm covering my butt."

Last month, Janella Martin won $20.1 million -- the largest individual sex discrimination award in U.S. history -- from her employer, Texaco U.S.A.

In 1972, Martin sued Texaco after she was barred from applying for a senior position.

Little Rock attorney Cliff Jackson settled in Arkansas for her. She received back pay and a promotion.

During the next 13 years at Texaco, Martin faced four blatant cases of sex discrimination, including one instance in which she was told, "We don't want a woman."

Her immediate supervisor, a man she considered a mentor, was assigned the task of "handling" Martin when she was rejected for promotions she should have been given.

In the final instance, Martin was working in California. Her immediate supervisor, Jerry Fisher, traveled from Texas to tell her she was being demoted.

Martin responded, "Don't go back to Houston thinking you've got it 'handled' this time."

Fisher allegedly used veiled physical threats to scare her, but Martin remained undeterred and contacted Jackson, who filed suit and won.

"People too often think of sexual harassment as sex on the job," Walker says. "It is no different than the intimidation of people of different races or religions on the job."

"They're weird cases," says Little Rock attorney Richard Quiggle.

He compares sexual harassment cases to rape cases.

Walker agrees.

She says, "It is the same motivation as rape. It's power abuse."

While rape victims' past sexual experiences usually are not admissible in trials, sexual harassment victims often find their private lives under investigation.

"When they find out their personal life may be the subject of inquiry, they say, 'I don't want to go through that,'" says Quiggle, who recently won a case for an employee of Tri-State Mack Distributors Inc. of Little Rock.

When the woman rejected advances by her boss and reported his continued lewd remarks to his supervisor, the boss was said to have verbally attacked her in non-sexual ways.

"Which, of course, is still sexual harassment," Quiggle says.

The man's supervisor made him apologize, but eventually he began to physically assault the woman. She was forced to quit her job.

Her medical records and her sexual history, along with her husband's sexual history, were discussed in court. She eventually won more than $50,000.

"It takes a woman |with a~ fair amount of courage to go through that," Quiggle says.

Catch-22

The woman might not have been as successful if she had not quit her job.

A woman often has to quit in order to allege that a boss made work intolerable.

Arkansas laws make the awarding of damages difficult in sexual harassment cases. Punitive awards can only be given if they have the proper relationship to compensatory damages.

Compensatory damages may be impossible to obtain if the woman still holds her job and hasn't actually lost money.

There are other complications in sexual harassment cases such as the relatively short 180-day statute of limitations for reporting offenses.

"It's a horribly short statute of limitations," Welch says. "Frankly, I don't think it's fair."

Welch also does not like the fact that sexual harassment and discrimination cases do not go before juries.

"People who work generally can use their own common sense and come closer to giving full relief than a judge will," Welch says.

But he adds that only a judge can award back pay, stipulate attorneys' fees and place injunctions on companies.

Welch is going to court this week against Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages Inc.

Welch is representing an employee he claims was consistently one of the top five sales people for the Yellow Pages from 1982 to 1987. Welch says she was fired for code of conduct violations, including not riding with other salespeople in their cars.

The woman alleges she grew so distraught over her harassment that she checked herself into a hospital. Now, Welch asserts, she'll most likely be painted as unstable.

Welch refused to settle out of court. He says the woman was earning $60,000 when she was fired in 1987, and the back pay the judge could award might be substantial.

Many sexual harassment suits remain secret because they were settled out of court.

Some Arkansas attorneys have asked the Legislature to ban secrecy agreements so companies that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages will be forced to also have a recorded history of sexual harassment.

Staying Ahead

Corporations, politicians and the general public are learning more about sexual harassment.

When some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn't understand why Hill might remain on speaking terms with Thomas after he allegedly harassed her, Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., used the analogy that men may hate their bosses but still play golf with them in order to get ahead in their careers.

Companies are conducting workshops to teach employees what constitutes harassment.

Corning Glass Works offers these guidelines so employees can decide if their behavior qualifies as sexual harassment:

* Would you say or do this in front of your spouse or parents or in front of a colleague of the same sex?

* Would you like your behavior reported in your local newspaper?

* Does it need to be said or done at all?

Most companies have a long way to go.

When, in front of hundreds of employees, Janella Martin asked Texaco's chairman, president and chief executive officer why there were only four top female managers out of 54,000 employees, CEO John McKinley was left dumbfounded.

He replied, "My experience is that our girls, our, er, women, er -- would you prefer that we call them people? -- don't want to be promoted."

Texaco isn't unique.

A woman was fired from a north Arkansas manufacturing plant because she wasn't a "team player."

Welch says "team player" is a euphemism applied to women who don't fit into the male concept of what their roles should be.

Jackson says that after paying $20.1 million, Texaco is beginning to learn its lesson. Other corporations may benefit from that lesson as well.

"This case has sent shock waves through corporate America," Jackson says. "And, yes, I think the case will result in substantial change inside the Texaco system."

Still, the majority of cases are settled out of court or not even filed.

"That's a shame because that means the problem will continue," Quiggle says.

That is until $20-million awards, or even $50,000 awards, become the norm and not the exception.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:cases of sexual harassment and discrimination against women in work-place have been filed in Arkansas
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 21, 1991
Words:1456
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