According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of sexual harassment complaints rose 12 percent during its last fiscal year, the first rise in complaint levels in 10 years. The number of sexual harassment lawsuits the agency filed was also up by 50 percent over the previous fiscal year. The timing of these increases suggests that the #MeToo movement has had an influence.
It has been a year since the first #MeToo complaints about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein became public. Since that time, powerful men in the media, politics and other fields have faced credible accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by women, many of whom had kept silent about the allegations in the past. In many cases, men have been forced out of their jobs or faced other career repercussions. Some have faced criminal charges.
The EEOC had been seeing a drop in sexual harassment charges each year since 2010. In 2016, the commission suggested this was more likely due to a drop in reporting than to an actual reduction in harassment. Preliminary numbers for EEOC FY 2018 indicate a jump by 12 percent over last year, when it received around 6,700. The agency will release its final numbers for 2018 in February.
The EEOC also said that it has filed 41 sexual harassment lawsuits in FY 2018, which was 50 percent more than in FY 2017.
How do sexual harassment complaints work?
Before a charge can be filed with the EEOC, the complainant must try to resolve the situation internally with their employer. If that process does not resolve things, the complainant can file a charge with the EEOC or a state agency, such as the Florida Commission on Human Relations. You do not need a lawyer to file a complaint, but it may be helpful to have one to ensure that you have done so as effectively as possible.
The EEOC or the state agency may decide to take on the case. If they do, they will typically engage in a conciliation or settlement process with the accused employer. If no settlement is reached, the agency then files a lawsuit.
Alternatively, the agency may decline the case, which does not indicate that it has no merit. If this situation, it may issue a "right to sue" letter to the complainant, which frees the person to sue on their own.
You are free to consult with an attorney at any point during the process. We recommend discussing your situation with a lawyer as soon as possible -- even before you make your complaint. Doing so can help build a persuasive argument and minimize the chance of retaliation.