WHY IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT A COMMUNITY CONCERN?
We cannot tolerate harassment of any member of our community. When sexual harassment occurs, it degrades the quality of work and education at the University. It erodes the dignity and productivity of the individuals involved and diminishes the quality, effectiveness and stature of the institution. Sexual harassment not only violates the law and university policy but also can damage personal and professional relationships; cause career or academic disadvantage; and expose the university to legal liabilities, a loss of federal research funds and other financial consequences. For all these reasons, it is in our best interest to educate all community members and take other steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can occur in any university setting: in the workplace, the learning environment or university programs. Each of us has a duty not to harass others and to act responsibly when confronted with the issue of sexual harassment. Principal investigators, supervisors, managers, department chairs, directors and deans have additional responsibilities: individuals in positions of authority must take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment and take immediate and appropriate action when they learn of allegations of sexual harassment.
II. WHAT IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:
- Submission to such conduct is a condition of employment, academic progress or participation in a university program; or
- Submission to or rejection of such conduct influences employment, academic or university program decisions; or
- The conduct interferes with an employee’s work or student’s academic career, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work, learning program environment.
III. TYPES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Tangible Action or Quid Pro Quo (This for That) Sexual Harassment occurs when employment or academic decisions resulting in a significant change in status are based on an employee or student’s submission to or rejection of unwelcome verbal or physical sexual conduct. Examples include:
- Requiring sexual favors in exchange for hiring, a promotion, a raise, or a grade.
- Disciplining, demoting or firing an employee because he or she ends a consensual relationship.
- Refusing to write recommendations for a graduate student because the student refuses sexual advances.
- Changing work or academic assignments because an employee or student refuses invitations for a date or other private, social meeting.
Hostile Environments Sexual Harassment occurs when verbal, non-verbal and/or physical conduct is:
- Sexual and/or based on gender,
- Sufficiently severe and pervasive to interfere with a person’s work/learning/program performance or to create a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment.
The determination is made on a case-by-case basis looking at the whole record, including the circumstances (such as the nature of the sexual advances) and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. Some behaviors acceptable in certain contexts are inappropriate in the workplace or classroom, particularly if an objection is expressed.
IV. KEY POINTS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
- Differences in power or status can be a significant component in sexual harassment. A person who seems to acquiesce to sexual conduct may still experience tangible action harassment or hostile environment harassment if the conduct is unwelcome.
- Harassment can occur between men and women or between members of the same gender.
- Sexual harassment may or may not involve a tangible injury (e.g., economic loss, lowered grades). A sexually harassing environment, in and of itself, may constitute a harm.
- Sexual harassment must be addressed and corrected regardless of the position or status of the harasser or the person being harassed.
- Conduct is not always offensive or unwelcome to the same degree when perceived by different people. Courts use a “reasonable person” standard to determine whether the contested behavior constitutes sexual harassment.
- Individuals in positions of authority are responsible for ensuring that employees, student, or other do not harass. In the workplace, offenders can be supervisors, co-workers or non-employees such as vendors, customers and suppliers. In an academic or program setting, offenders can be faculty, instructors, lecturers, teaching assistants, coaches, tutors, or fellow students or program participants.
- The person filing a sexual harassment charge does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone significantly harmed by the harassing conduct.
- Harassment does not have to be reported immediately, but a significant delay may be a factor in the evaluation of a complaint. A delayed report may result in a dismissal of the complaint. State and federal agencies have deadlines for filing complaints.
- Some behavior that is not in violation of university policy may, nonetheless, be unprofessional under the circumstances. Consequences of such unprofessional behavior may include poor performance evaluations or possible discipline.
State and federal laws and university policy protect against retaliation. University policy prohibits retaliation against a person because he or she reported sexual harassment, filed a complaint, participated in the investigation of a complaint, or assisted others who raise a complaint. Retaliation is a serious offense that can result in disciplinary action.
This protection exists even if a complaint eventually is dismissed or found lacking in merit. It does not follow that false claims will be tolerated: a person will be held accountable for knowingly making a frivolous or malicious complaint of sexual harassment.
VI. WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?
Sexual harassment injures both the individuals involved and the university. It also damages the campus climate for all of us. Possible consequences include:
For the individuals
- Emotional and psychological harm.
- Diminished ability to work and study, which may have a lasting career impact.
- Lost confidence in the university’s ability to provide a comfortable and safe environment for work and learning.
- Potential personal liability for the harasser for damages if the unlawful conduct is deemed outside the scope of employment.
For the University
- General disruption and reduced productivity and morale.
- Diminished reputation that may impair efforts to attract, recruit and retain students, faculty and staff.
- Time spent responding to complaint investigators and lawyers.
- Increased absenteeism and turnover.
- Costs that may be substantial, including back pay, lost benefits, attorney fees and expert witness fees.
- Compensatory and punitive damages.
VII. WHEN IS THE UNIVERSITY LIABLE FOR HARASSMENT?
While we have a collective responsibility to provide a work and leaning environment free of sexual harassment, the university’s leaders must take proactive efforts to prevent sexual harassment and respond in a timely and effective manner to allegations of sexual harassment. Actions taken by individuals in positions of authority (e.g., principal investigators, supervisors) are pivotal to the determination of legal liability when lawsuits or complaints are filed with federal or state enforcement agencies.
- In cases where sexual harassment by a supervisor culminates in a tangible employment action, the university will be liable in spite of preventive and corrective actions and the absence of fault on the part of senior administrators.
- In cases where a supervisor creates a sexual harassment hostile environment, the university will be liable unless:
- The university took reasonable care to prevent and correct the harassing behavior, and
- The employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective steps provided by the university to avoid harm.
- In cases of sexual harassment between co-workers, the university will be liable for harassment if the university (through its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment, prevent recurrence, and remedy effects that could reasonably have been prevented.
- In cases of sexual harassment by non-employees, such as customers, program participants or suppliers, the university will be liable for harassment if the university (through its agents) knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action to stop the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy effects that could reasonably have been prevented.
- The general principles expressed in the above employment examples also apply in academic environments and program settings.
VIII. WHAT TO DO ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?
We encourage early contact: consultation is not escalation. Timely discussion of people’s concerns may allow resolution before alternatives become limited. The university will protect confidentially to the extent possible under the law.
If You Feel You’ve Been Sexually Harassed
- Seek advice. Consult your department chair, another divisional resource person, the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, Human Resources, the Ombudsperson, Employee Assistance Program or Counseling Center.
- You may find it helpful to seek support from a trusted colleague. Be aware of your interest in keeping the matter as confidential as possible.
- Keep notes of what happened, when, where, and who was present. Retain copies of any correspondence.
- Consider informing the individual(s) involved that the conduct is unwelcome and that you expect it to stop.
If You Are Accused of Harassment
- Early consultation may help avoid claims of retaliation and facilitate resolution of the situation.
- You will be informed of any complain filed against you and provided with an opportunity to respond to the specific allegations.
- You should contact the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity or Human Resources. Other resources include the Ombudsperson, the Employee Assistance Program or the Counseling Center.
- You may choose to seek private legal advice.
- Be honest when questioned about alleged conduct and explain its context.
If You Are in a Position of Authority
(e.g., principal investigator, supervisor, manager, department chair, director, dean)
- Sexual harassment can arise in a healthy environment but it often develops in negative climates. If you have concerns about the climate in your area, consult with one of the resources in this brochure to learn about proactive measures to improve the climate for all individuals.
- Distribute the discrimination and harassment policy to new faculty and staff and to all employees periodically and when there are modifications to the policy.
- Periodically remind employees of your expectation that they maintain a harassment-free environment.
- Schedule discrimination and sexual harassment workshops in your department. Promote attendance by all department members.
- Encourage employees and students to come forward with questions, concerns and allegations. Avoid discouraging persons from “going outside the department with problems.” (A person may not be comfortable reporting within the department and may not seek help if the department’s culture discourages outside assistance.)
- Take every complaint seriously and ensure that others do as well. Ensure that your department appropriately addresses all complaints. If you have questions about the scope of you responsibility, contact Human Resources or the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity.
- Keep allegations confidential except on a “need to know” basis.
- Ensure that no retaliation occurs against the person making the allegations and that the person charged with harassment is not assumed guilty and/or disciplined on the basis of allegations.
- For the protection of both parties, comply with all applicable university procedures and ensure that you department fully cooperates with any investigation.
If You Are Approached by a Colleague or Peer
- Listen to the allegation of harassment sympathetically but objectively.
- Encourage the individual to contact someone who can explain alternative available to resolve the situation (the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity or Human Resources or the Ombudsperson).
- Remind the person of the assistance available from the Employee Assistance Program or the Counseling Center.
- Keep allegations confidential, except as necessary to cooperate with appropriate university officials.
The University of Denver is committed to prevention and will take prompt and appropriate corrective action whenever it learns that sexual harassment has occurred.
**This handout uses material from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s brochure
“Defining and Addressing a Community Concern” with permission.
The Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, University of Denver
2199 S. University Blvd. Denver, Colorado 80208
(303) 871-7436 (phone) | (303) 871-7982