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Lawyers Need Lawyers: The Rise in Sexual Harassment Complaints by Paralegals

Say What?
 
There"s a blitz of paralegals reporting sexual harassment by their employers in recent months, and stunning amounts of compensation are being award to the victims. One would hope that attorneys would know better, but alas, even a firm that handles sexual harassment cases was hit with a lawsuit and subsequent damages.
 
There"s no definitive reason for the upward trend in sexual harassment of paralegals by attorneys, but sexual harassment is known to be associated with the desire for power and control by the perpetrator. An "Old Boys Club- mentality can lead to a work culture of attorney superiority rather than equality.  All of the examples listed below involve female paralegals and male attorneys, but sexual harassment could theoretically occur between a female attorney and a male or female staff member.
 
As a quick refresher, sexual harassment occurs when an employee is forced to cooperate with a superior"s sexual requests or advances as part of maintaining employment ("this for that-), or when unwelcome maltreatment is based on the employee"s gender. It does not matter whether or not the victim consents ... it simply matters if it is "unwelcome- conduct.
 
Case Samples
 
The law firm Rappaport, Hertz, Cherson, / Rosenthal in Forest Hills, New York, agreed to settle two separate lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). One suit was filed by the EEOC on behalf of paralegal Melissa Castillo, who complained of ongoing sexual harassment. The other was filed on behalf of three other female employees, who claimed to be subjected daily to lewd comments and acts and pornographic images displayed on computers. The latter charge was settled when the firm agreed to pay $50,000 to one victim and agreed to provide sexual harassment education to the firm"s staff. 
 
In a California case, the jury awarded damages of $368,000 for the sexual harassment of a paralegal. The firm of Martinez-Senftner in Roseville, which has handled sexual harassment cases, was ordered to pay a paralegal at the firm $68,000 in general damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. The jury found the paralegal"s allegations to be true, and found that the firm was aware of the sexual harassment but failed to act upon the information.
 
What Paralegals Can Do
 
If you find yourself the victim of sexual harassment, you should ask the perpetrator to stop the behavior, and report problems to Human Resources. Keep a journal with dates and times of the infractions. If the firm fails to take remedial steps to solve the problem, it is unlawful for the firm to take action against you for filing a charge with the EEOC.

By Chris Navarro
Get Paralegal Jobs, Contributing Editor

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