Psychiatric Annals

PSYCHIATRY IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT 

Potential Costs and Benefits of Sexual Harassment Litigation

Sharyn A Lenhart, MD; Diane K Shrier, MD

Abstract

Litigation in cases of sexual harassment is an option that should be resorted to only after carefuJ evaluation of the likely costs and benefits and consideration of a range of non legal interventions. This paper presents a series of cases that demonstrate important factors involved in choosing to litigate or not to litigate, as well as relative contraindications and risks and potential benefits.

Sexual harassment, in the workplace or academia is a form of gender discrimination based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Subsequent additional acts and amendments serve to both clarify the definition and establish enforcement measures.1·- Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature and is of two types: quid pro quo (Latin for "this for that'1) and a sexually hostile environment. In quid pro quo harassment, work conditions of employment or academic decisions are explicitly or implicitly based on the individual's submission to. or rejection of, these sexual advances. In a sexually hostile or offensive environment, the individual's work or academic performance is interfered with due to the sexualized environment.23

Sexual harassment is part of a broader spectrum of abuse involving sexual exploitation predominantly of women, including childhood molestation, rape, and sexual exploitation by professionals in the context of a fiduciary relationship. Abuse of a power differential and a betrayal of trust occur in the context of a humiliating and embarrassing sexual experience and commonly is accompanied by lack of support for the victim and collusion of others with the more powerful aggressor.4,5

While the majority of victims of sexual harassment are female and harassers male, males are also harassed by harassers of either sex and. least commonly, females are harassed by females. In relatively rare instances, false allegations are made, either deliberately or due to a misunderstanding of what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace and academia. Some harassers act out of ignorance of the impact of their behaviors and respond to being asked to stop. Other harassers are deliberate and repetitive offenders who will escalate their behavior when confronted and will only cease when faced with severe economic and legal sanctions.6

Since the 1970s, and even more so since the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, the pervasive presence of sexual harassment in the workplace and academia has been increasingly well documented and recognized, along with its often significant short- and long-term physical and mental health and economic consequences.5-13 There has been considerable publicity and media attention paid to complaints filed by individuals or groups of women - and a few men - against individual harassers or government institutions, the military, and private employers with resultant widespread efforts to change what constitutes an acceptable workplace and academic culture. In addition, a small number of litigated cases have led to large court-ordered financial awards, and increasing numbers of cases are going to court, thus creating a body of case law.1,14,19 However, it is important to be aware that substantially less than 10% of the women who are harassed file a formal complaint or seek legal help,20 and of these, less than half are decided in favor of the individual alleging harassment.21,22 There is currently no research, but numerous case examples, of the short- and long-term emotional sequelae and other costs of both successful and unsuccessful litigation.

Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who counsel targets of sexual harassment should be familiar with a series of alternatives to any type of litigation, as well as the types of legal recourse available to their patients and the likely risks and benefits of the various choices.4,23,24 The therapist should be able to guide and…

Litigation in cases of sexual harassment is an option that should be resorted to only after carefuJ evaluation of the likely costs and benefits and consideration of a range of non legal interventions. This paper presents a series of cases that demonstrate important factors involved in choosing to litigate or not to litigate, as well as relative contraindications and risks and potential benefits.

Sexual harassment, in the workplace or academia is a form of gender discrimination based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Subsequent additional acts and amendments serve to both clarify the definition and establish enforcement measures.1·- Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature and is of two types: quid pro quo (Latin for "this for that'1) and a sexually hostile environment. In quid pro quo harassment, work conditions of employment or academic decisions are explicitly or implicitly based on the individual's submission to. or rejection of, these sexual advances. In a sexually hostile or offensive environment, the individual's work or academic performance is interfered with due to the sexualized environment.23

Sexual harassment is part of a broader spectrum of abuse involving sexual exploitation predominantly of women, including childhood molestation, rape, and sexual exploitation by professionals in the context of a fiduciary relationship. Abuse of a power differential and a betrayal of trust occur in the context of a humiliating and embarrassing sexual experience and commonly is accompanied by lack of support for the victim and collusion of others with the more powerful aggressor.4,5

While the majority of victims of sexual harassment are female and harassers male, males are also harassed by harassers of either sex and. least commonly, females are harassed by females. In relatively rare instances, false allegations are made, either deliberately or due to a misunderstanding of what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace and academia. Some harassers act out of ignorance of the impact of their behaviors and respond to being asked to stop. Other harassers are deliberate and repetitive offenders who will escalate their behavior when confronted and will only cease when faced with severe economic and legal sanctions.6

Since the 1970s, and even more so since the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings, the pervasive presence of sexual harassment in the workplace and academia has been increasingly well documented and recognized, along with its often significant short- and long-term physical and mental health and economic consequences.5-13 There has been considerable publicity and media attention paid to complaints filed by individuals or groups of women - and a few men - against individual harassers or government institutions, the military, and private employers with resultant widespread efforts to change what constitutes an acceptable workplace and academic culture. In addition, a small number of litigated cases have led to large court-ordered financial awards, and increasing numbers of cases are going to court, thus creating a body of case law.1,14,19 However, it is important to be aware that substantially less than 10% of the women who are harassed file a formal complaint or seek legal help,20 and of these, less than half are decided in favor of the individual alleging harassment.21,22 There is currently no research, but numerous case examples, of the short- and long-term emotional sequelae and other costs of both successful and unsuccessful litigation.

Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who counsel targets of sexual harassment should be familiar with a series of alternatives to any type of litigation, as well as the types of legal recourse available to their patients and the likely risks and benefits of the various choices.4,23,24 The therapist should be able to guide and inform the patient, to assess her individual goals, special situation and options, and her ability to sustain the stress of litigation.

Part of the psychiatric intervention may include advising the patient to consult with an attorney experienced in the laws pertaining to employment discrimination and sexual harassment. Recommendations may be obtained by patients through the National Employment Lawyers' Association or local bar association.25 While some of these attorneys may focus only on whether or not their client has a "winning" case, others inform their clients about the nature of the litigation process and realistically assess a range of emotional, financial, and other potential costs and benefits. These attorneys determine, with the patient, what she is seeking to accomplish through iegal action and may advise her on efforts at obtaining settlement or other nonlegal options such as changing jobs rather than litigating. Some attorneys, cognizant of the potential for litigation to retraumatize, seek psychiatric consultation for their client to assist them in determining the advisability of going forward with the case.

As noted by Schafran,26 the goal of litigation is not to seek out justice and truth, but instead to resolve disputes. Litigation may become a war game with the goal of winning through the attempted destruction of one party by the other. As a result, litigation may have serious, adverse emotional and other effects on the litigant.

However, for some patients, litigation may be empowering, part of the healing process, and ultimately their only acceptable choice. These patients may have an unshakable determination to seek justice and vindication for themselves and to punish the wrong-doers !harasser, supervisor, company, etc.), to make the workplace a safer environment for others. They may be unsatisfied with or lack other viable options, for realistic or irrational reasons. The decision to litigate should be an informed choice that goes beyond whether one's attorney believes one has a "good" case, to include a careful assessment of the emotional, financial, interpersonal, and career costs of litigation.

Based on our clinical experience, it appears that those patients who fare best emotionally with litigation are those who fit set realistic goals; (2) maintain a sense of control of the litigation process; (3) seek out adequate support from at least one significant source (family, therapist, peers, attorney); (4) appreciate and focus energy on restoring the original equilibrium of their lives independent of the litigation process; and (5) adequately acknowledge and grieve the losses inevitably involved even when litigation has a favorable outcome. It is easier said than done to implement all of the above steps, and the help of a knowledgeable therapist, as well as attorney, can be crucial.

COSTS AND BENEFITS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT LITIGATION

We have elected to focus on four major areas to highlight the potential costs and benefits of litigation in cases of sexual harassment. These are (1) realistic or unrealistic goals; (2) emotional costs or benefits; (3) impact of litigation on interpersonal relationships; and (4 1 the financial and career impact. For each issue, we have presented two case vignettes: the first case exemplifies adverse impact and the second case a positive outcome.. Identifying information has been disguised. In the instances of negative outcomes, many of the problems that developed could have been avoided or minimized by a thorough prelitigation risk/benefit analysis and by appropriate psychiatric consuîtation and/or treatment.

REALISTIC OR UNREALISTIC GOALS

An important factor in determining whether the outcome of sexual harassment litigation is positive from a psychological standpoint is the plaintiff's ability or inability to set realistic goals. Attorneys and therapists can play an important role first by asking plaintiffs to clarify what they would like to accomplish via litigation and then by directly addressing and discussing those goals that are unlikely to be accomplished. Unfocused anger, wishes for revenge, displacement of other abusive experiences onto the case, wishes for resolution that do not allow for preparation for the adversarial nature of litigation, and wishes to gain financial security via an unrealistically high settlement are common problems. The following two cases illustrate how a plaintiff with unrealistic goals remained symptomatic after the outcome of her litigation (Case 1), while a plaintiff who was able to develop realistic goals was able to gain psychological closure via her lawsuit (Case 2).

Case Reports

Case I. Susan H. was an accountant in a large insurance company where she was perceived as an amicable and conscientious worker who regularly received both salary increases and promotions. A single incident occurred in which a coworker, noted for telling tasteless sexual jokes at work, came up behind her and cupped her buttocks in !iis hands. Susan rapidly developed nightmares, flashbacks of the incident, poor concentration, decreased social activity, sexual inhibitions with her boyfriend, and sweating and palpitations triggered by men who reminded her of her coworker.

Susan's company had an excellent sexual harassment polJcy. which she used to file a formal complaint. Her company investigated promptly, found her coworker guilty and sanctioned him by cutting his salary and removing him from the· management training team. In addition, the company offered to transfer Susan to another worksite or to have her coworker transferred to another site.

Dissatisfied with the outcome and still unable to work because of her psychiatric symptomatology, Susan filed a lawsuit and entered therapy. Her therapist uncovered a history of previous sexual harassment at another job, previous physical and emotional abuse from a boyfriend who assaulted her. and childhood memories consistent with the possibility of sexual abuse by a brother. In an attempt to be supportive, the therapist did not address Susan's lack of affect regarding these experiences, but focused on her need to stand up for herself now. With her therapist's support, Susan refused a settlement offer by her company and insisted on taking her case to court. A jury, feeling her company had acted responsibly, awarded her a nominal sum that did not even cover her legal expenses. Disappointed and enraged, she remained symptomatic and focused on the lawsuit.

Case 2. Katherine C. was the assistant editor of a New York-based literary magazine, a position she had held for 8 years. She performed well in work that she loved, but endured unwanted caresses, intrusive personal questions, and persistent requests for dates from her editor and primary mentor. Fearful she might lose her position, she tactfully refused her superior's offers for dates and his overtures to personal conversations, and she repeatedly expressed her discomfort with the caresses. When her editor's wife left him, his actions exacerbated and !Catherine felt forced to express her intent to file a formal complaint if his behavior did not change. Shortly thereafter, she received her first negative performance rating and was assigned to another editorial position in what constituted both a demotion and a departure from her area of interest and expertise. Furious that, she had lost her position, for which she had endured so much to retain, she filed a lawsuit requesting restoration to her original position. She was initially certain that this would be the only outcome that would alleviate the depression for which she was seeking treatment. Her therapist, neither supporting or refuting this goal, urged her to assess this outcome in terms of what would be in her best interest. In this context, she was able to realistically assess the impossibility of ever having a satisfactory work relationship with her editor. She instructed her attorney Ui insist either on a trial that, focused on high punitive and compensatory damages or a settlement consisting of a smaller financial component, formal acknowledgment of the harassment, and active verbal and written assistance in obtaining a similar position with another magazine. Happy to avoid the high costs and publicity of a lawsuit, the magazine settled. Several of its senior editors who knew and respected Katherine's work assisted her in finding a satisfactory position elsewhere.

EMOTIONAL COSTS AND BENEFITS OF LITIGATION

In addition to the identification of realistic goals, an emotional litigation cost/benefit analysis should be discussed with each prospective plaintiff because the litigation process offers both oppo7tumties for psychological benefits and future psychological damage. Litigation will frequently lead to disruptions in ongoing psychotherapy due to intrusions of confidentiality, confusion of the roles of therapist and expert witness, therapist reluctance to be involved in litigation, and unrealistic rescue wishes directed toward the therapist. Other common problems include ill development and exacerbation of psychologic and physical symptoms; (2) retraumatization secondary to the litigation; and !3) obsessive focusing of time and energy on the legal process and outcome at the expense of maintaining a healthy life "balance.

Possible benefits include (1) obtaining just compensation and emotional validation regarding the harassment and subsequent retaliation; (2) gaining a large settlement and having a productive impact on the institution's future sexual harassment policies and responses to victims; (31 obtaining a sense of mutual support and validation by joining colleagues in a group lawsuit; (4) obtaining closure on the event through a positive outcome of litigation or a sense that she has done everything possible even if the outcome is negative; and (5) obtaining a sense that her lawsuit will benefit her daughters and/or other women.

The following two case examples illustrate the emotional pros and cons of the litigation process.

Case Reports

Case 1. Dr. H. was a 35-year-old single physician who filed a lawsuit against the chief of staff in her community hospital following an incident in which he cornered her in an isolated office, fried to persuade her to accompany him to a motel, and attempted to rape her when she refused. Approximately I year prior to this event, Dr. H. had entered weekly psychotherapy because of escalating difficulties with affective lability and global anxiety in lier relationship with her gay lover.

In the course of her lawsuit, Dr. H.'s psychotherapy records were subpoenaed. Following this, she began to experience harassing comments at work for the first time regarding her gay identity. Connecting this harassment with her lawsuit, Dr. H. became angry at her therapist for a perceived breach in confidentiality and for the therapist's working diagnosis with which she did tiot agree. At the same Lime, her therapist began to express concerns regarding testifying in court and urged her to speak with her attorney regarding obtaining a forensic psychiatrist to assist her. Dr. H. experienced this as a further betrayal and abandonment and terminated her therapy with her therapist's mutual consent. Her attorney discussed concerns that the defense would further use her psychiatric records to discredit her and thus discouraged her from seeking consultation regarding the disruption of ongoing therapy. In this context, her original affective symptoms exacerbated. She also developed debilitating anxiety in the course of her extensive deposition. Her work functioning was disrupted for the first time, which further depressed her.

At this point, Dr. H. sought a psychiatric consultation. The consultant recommended (11 forensic consultation to assist with the lawsuit: (2 1 time-limited meetings with her previous therapist to achieve a more reasonable termination; (3) further individual psychotherapy and psychopharmacologic treatment; and (4) continued contact with the consultant to assist in carrying out the recommendations. Dr. H. initially received the consultation weil, but 1 week later called to say she was too ambivalent and mistrustful regarding mental health professionals to continue the consultation or to allow her attorney to speak with the consultant.

Case 2. Joan W. was a 24-year-old graduate student whose thesis adviser. Dr. P.. had repeatedly pressured her for dates since Lhe onset of their relationship. Her refusals were persistently firm and polite, hut the situation escalated when her adviser saw her with her boyfriend al a social event and exploded petulantly, "Now I see why you have no lime for me." After his outburst, he withdrew from the mcntoring relationship, canceling meetings and failing to provide feedback regarding Joan's thesis.

Joan consulted Dr. O., a trusted female professor, who suggested she switch thesis advisers and offered to assist her in the transfer. An appropriate senior faculty member was identified but when approached, he refused, based on his concern that his colleague. Dr. P., might be offended. Joan then filed a formal sexual harassment complaint with her university. The investigation committee, in reviewing the complaint, found thai harassment had occurred, but did not feel they could intervene. It was also acknowledged that Dr. P. was considered a valuable member of the university community. With Dr. O.'s assistance. Joan located three other students who had been harassed by Dr. P. and together they filed a lawsuit with full support of their families and friends. After a prolonged suit, Lhe students won a large settlement that resulted io a major revision of the university's sexual harassment policy.

IMPACT OF LITIGATION ON INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS

Few plain tin's consider the far-reaching impact of a iawsuit on their interpersonal relationships both at home and at work. Yet support or lack of support in these key relationships can account for the difference between a !awsuit that benefits the psychological well-being of the plaintiff or a lawsuit that is psychologically traumatizing. Polarization of opinion and retaliation are common interpersonal problems encountered by plaintiffs in their workplace after they file either a formal complaint or initiate litigation. Coworkers and superiors are seldom lukewarm in their responses to employees or students who file lawsuits. An organized institutional stance against the victim is common, leaving the victim feeling ostracized, invalidated, and attacked at work.

Those colleagues who had previously supported or shared similar concerns with the plaintiff, or even those who had themselves been sexually harassed by the same harasser, are frequently unwilling to come forward and testify. Understandable fears of potential adverse consequences lead to their refusals, often to the dismay of the plaintiff who might not have proceeded to legal action without their support and encouragement. Other coworkers will not hesitate to benefit from the victim's situation, agreeing to take over her work responsibilities and activities that may even be offered as a reward for remaining loyal to the institution. The institution's leadership may specifically pressure other female employees to replace the plaintiff or to speak out in support of the institution in an effort to further isolate and invalidate the plaintiff.

Poor performance reviews, withdrawal of a mentor's support, harassing comments, demotions, dismissals, adverse and unacceptable job transfers, and verbal threats are common retaliatory behaviors. These behaviors are particularly traumatizing when received from previously trusted coworkers or respected mentors and bosses. Such treatment can lead to severe self-doubt and decline in self-confidence, disillusionment with institutions and leaders, ambivalence about one's career choice, an inability to trust authority, and impulsive withdrawal from the workplace. Conversely, when coworkers and/or key authority figures are willing to support the victim, the lawsuit can be a positive and empowering psychological experience even if the outcome is unfavorable.

Personal relationships can also be either disrupted or strengthened by a lawsuit. Spouses or lovers may identify with the harasser and resent the disruption of family life, finances, or sexual relations that can accompany prolonged suits. Children may be frightened by threats or disrupted by moves made to accommodate job changes. Mothers and other female relatives and friends can experience a plaintiff's complaint as shameful, excessively entitled, and indicative that she should have remained a homemaker.

If a plaintiff is a member of an ethnic or cultural minority, she may be perceived as shaming her community or attacking one of her own if her harasser is a member of the same community. Conversely, a plaintiff may feel enhanced and oblivious to the stresses of the lawsuit if she receives consistent support within her close personal relationships.

The following two cases illustrate some of the effects of litigation on interpersonal work and personal relationships.

Case Reports

Case 1. Arvella W. was a 3 5 -year-old married mother of two who had worked in ;i meat packing plant for 15 years. She was an active member of the Black community in both church and social affairs. Her first marriage had ended in divorce when Arvella had an extramarital affair in the context of marital strife for which her husband had refused counseling. Her second marriage had remained stable and fulfilling f'ruin its onset 8 years ago. Arvella was pleased with her job. felt appreciated by coworkers and proud of the income she could bring to her family. Arvella began experiencing difficulties at work when Dan H., a 40-year-old white male, was assigned to her department. Dan approached her persistently for dates, commenting loudly that he'd heard Black women were really "hot."

When Dan's behavior escalated to include after-work harassment, Arvella attempted to file a formal complaint with the union in which both she and Dan were members. Her union steward refused to take the complaint, stating it was unnecessary as he would handle the situation personally. A company manager, aware of the situation, reported il to personnel and the company held its own investigation, which resulted in Dan being sanctioned with a suspension. Coworkers, blaming Arvella, ostracized her at work and made hostile comments regarding her disloyalty to a union brother. Union members collected statements documenting her alleged lewd and promiscuous behavior at work. The union succeeded in having Dan's sanctions overturned and he returned to work.

Dan continued his harassment and Arvclla continued to receive hostile treatment from coworkers. Her tires were slashed in the company parking lot and her family began receiving anonymous threatening phone calls at night. Her children were frightened and restricted from playing oulsJde. Her security guard husband vacillated between periods of rage in which he threatened to shoot Dan; periods when he supported Arvella in her attempts to file a complaint with regional union officials; and periods in which he withdrew from Arvella sexually, bringing up the affair in her first marriage, and accusing her of cheating on him too.

When the union officials failed to respond. Arvella filed a lawsuit against the union. Concomitantly, she began to experience depressive and anxiety symptoms and sought counseling from her minister. The minister asked her detailed questions about her sex life and her past marital infidelity, and attempted to kiss her during one of their meetings. She promptly terminated the sessions but was fearful of reporting the occurrence to her husband or to members of her church.

Although Arvella subsequently won a large settlement in court, she and her husband separated for a period during the process. She felt forced to seek another job with reduced salary, stopped attending church, and she and her children required psychiatric treatment.

Case 2. Candace J. was a 20-year-old undergraduate student at a highly prestigious university who was men to red by a 42-year-old professor, Dr. H., who offered both expert advice and unique opportunities to publish in the highly specialized field she wished to enter after graduation. Many students coveted her relationship and she felt fortunate until Dr. H. began to discuss his marriage, asked probing questions about, her boyfriend, and attempted Lo kiss her during their private tutorials. When he did not stop despite her multiple requests, she felt helpless and immobilized, had trouble concentrating, began avoiding class, and sought psychotherapy. In therapy, she began to explore her current options and to identify and speak with potential supporters, one of whom was a well-respected Dean with significant political power.

Her feelings of" immobilization also led to an exploration of her relationship with her critical and intimidating father who had died 3 years earlier. The therapist held several joint sessions with Candace and her mother, who had always idealized her husband and accepted his devaluation of her and her two daughters. The joint meetings also focused on Candace's sister, whose own experiences of sexual harassment in college had led to an impulsive and detrimental wtthdrawai /'mm ,school. As a resuh of these sessions, there was an improvement in Candace's relationship with her mother. Both her mother and her sister promised to support Candace in addressing her current problem.

When a formal complaint with the university led to only a perfunctory sanctioning of the professor, Candace filed a lawsuit fully supported by her mother, sister, therapist, a coed campus group, and unofficially by the Dean. Although the university defended successfully against the lawsuit, Candace benefited from the improvement in her relationship with her mother and sister, and her own sense of empowerment. The adverse publicity of the trial had an impact on the university, forced the resignation of a key administrator, and resulted in a révaluation of the administrative' policy on sexual harassment, which was gratifying to Candace. The Dean who bad supported her was able to assist Candace in protecting her academic future and finding her a comparable mentor.

FINANCIAL AND CAREER IMPACT OF LITIGATION

In addition to the psychological costs and benefits associated with sexual harassment litigation, the emotional impact of the financial and career losses associated with lawsuits should also be considered. A plaintiff may win the battle in court, but lose the war due to formal and informal retaliatory blackballing at work. Plaintiffs may make injudicious career moves to escape the hostile work environment that invariably develops during litigation.

Prolonged litigation may be disruptive to work functioning- and can also prove emotionally draining and demoralizing, leaving plaintiffs doubtful of their competence and original career goals. They may become totally disillusioned with their institutions, their mentors, and the leaders of the field who either perpetuate or collude with the harassment and retaliation. Tbe final settlement or award often does not outweigh the expenses, and shouldering the ongoing costs of lengthy litigation can lead to adverse credit ratings, declarations of bankruptcy, and intense family tensions.

Conversely, large settlements can ultimately lift financial burdens, finance job retraining or relocation, force institutions to positively remold the workplace, and provide internal validation for the plaintiff. When support is careTuIIy and successfully solicited from credible individuals within the institution or from leaders in the field of expertise, blackballing can be neutralized. Plaintiffs may emerge not only with financial gains, but also with an expanded career network, enhanced credibility, and a sensé of empowerment that promotes self-confidence and healthy as aerti venes s with continued gains in the workplace.

The following two cases ulustratë negative and positive financial and career effects of litigation.

Case Reports

Case 1. Dr. W. was a [enured associate professor of pul i Li cai science in a respected university located in a small mid western town. She was we U published, well liked by students, respected by her colleagues, and held several national level positions within professional organizations. Tom was a senior professor and colleague who shared her area of expertise, often coauthored papers with her. and gave professional talks with her at conferences. She considered him a trusted colleague and friend with whom she and her husband had socialized.

While out of town at a professional conference. Dr. W. was shocked and dismayed when Tom blurted out that he and his wife were separating. Concerned about his obvious distress, she returned with him Lo hia hotel room to better discuss the situation and Io plan the next day's presentation as they Ii ad done many times before. She was stunned but more concerned for Tom's distress when, in (.he midst of their conversation, he began to caress her and tell her how important she was to him. Although she tactfully removed his hands each Lime. Tom did not stop and instead attempted Lo force her onto the bed. Angry and affronted, she pushed him off balance and bolted out the door. She telephoned her husband who was supportive but furious at Tom.

The following day. Tom was cold and a loo! during their presentation, and upon their return to the university, he became openly hostile toward her. devaluing her in front of both students and colleagues. Soon thereafter, Dr. W. was not reappointed to three important committees. Tom chaired two of the committees and had great influence on the third.

In the next 4 months, the quality and number of students assigned to her as preceptor declined and she was not extended previously routine invitaLions to speak at professional meetings. Embarrassed and shocked to he in such a situ a Li on. she was reluctant to use the university's formal complaint system, feeling she should be able to manage this in a politically tactful and less public manner.

When her promotion to a full professorship did not win approval, she made an appointment to see her department chair, a man with whom she had a distant but cordial relationship. She had no female peers in her department and no male colleagues Lo whom she was as close as she was to Tom. so she had discussed the situation with no one other than her husband. The department head's reception was polite hut cool, and his response to her inquiries regarding the full professorship was vague and suggestive that she did not have the support of her colleagues.

At this point, Dr. W. Look the risk of sharing with her department head the event with Tom and her interpretation of the repercussions. She stated that she had not filed a formal complaint because she wanted to resolve this matter privately without embarrassment to the department. Her department head was clearly shocked and disconcerted, but was hostile in his response to her, stating that this was a personal matter and that he could not imagine Tom doing such a thing. Feeling that she had no recourse and no support within the institution, she filed a lawsuit, which was widely publicized in the local papers, leading to further ostracism and hostile comments from colleagues within her department and elsewhere on campus.

One female assistant professor approached her in private to share a similar experience but stated she would never have the "courage" to come forward. Although her husband and family firmly supported her, no one from the university was willing to testify on her hehalf. Highly identified with her work role, she was shattered by the realization of the tenuousness of both her professional credibility and her academic position despite years of hard work, fn addition, she felt the loss of valued collégial relationships, especially with Tom whom she had trusted.

Dr. W. developed severe and enduring depressive symptomatology along with anxiety reactions associated with a heightened sense of vulnerability and intense feelings of loss. This led to a decline in work functioning, which further depressed her. At this lime, her court date is pending, her psychiatric symptoms are only partially resolved, and she perceives herself as ostracized and without career options available either via her university network or her networks within national professional organizations.

Cow 2. Susan J. was a 34-year-old married mother of two who worked as a courier for a large delivery company. She was the only female working out of her division and frequently felt forced to ignore or laugh off tasteless sexual jokes made hy male coworkers, as well as hostile comments that this was a man's job and she belonged at home. The high pay combined with regular salary increases and good performance ratings kept her on the job.

The situation changed when a single coworker. Paul, began to physically harass her, grabbing her breasts or goosing her from behind in full view of coworkers who egged him on. After 1 week of such behavior. Susan spoke to her union alewarn about filing a complaint but was discouraged by the steward who said he'd feel stupid filing a grievance against another member for such a trivial problem. The division supervisor was equally unhelpful, reassuring her that the guys were always fooling around and giving each other a hard time and that it wasn't anything personal to do with her. Susan's husband's reaction was ambivalent. He, at times, encouraged her to quit the job and. at other times, to figli t for hotter treatment.

Susan sought help from her minister who referred her to a therapist. The therapist assisted Susan in considering her options and protecting herself from retaliation, and also met jointly with her and her husband to explain the psychological importance of Susan's taking charge of the situation. With her husband's and family's support. Susan chose to file a lawsuit. In preparation for the retaliation anticipated. Susan left her position, accepted a reduction in pay. and began work as a driver for a locai florist. Her family willingly cut the household budget in return for her securing a less stressful position. Although her suit was prolonged, she felt supported within her family and church and content with her new job. She won a large settlement,, which amply contributed to the family's income while also allowing her to pursue a lifelong goai of attending college.

CONCLUSIONS

In most instances, litigation should only be considered as a serious option when the target of sexual harassment has made an informed decision of the likely costs and benefits. From our experience, all other factors being equal, the probability of emotional trauma is reduced and the likelihood of a sense of empowerment is increased as a result of the litigation process under the following circumstances: (1) when litigation is part of a class action suit; i2i when several targets of sexual harassment join forces; or (3) when the litigant has strong and enduring support as well as appropriate psychiatric consultation throughout the course of the legal process.

Research is needed to better document the emotional impact and other costs of the various options available to a target of sexuaJ harassment, up to and including litigation. In our opinion, a full range of alternative options should he considered. Therapists and attorneys who are consulted by the target of sexual harassment should assist the patient/client in carefully considering their goals and the possible emotional, financial, interpersonal, and career costs of all potential courses of action, including litigation.

REFERENCES

1. Bravo E, Cassedy E. The 9 to 5 Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment, New York. NY: John Wiloy & Sons, Ine: 1992.

2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Title VIl guidelines on sexual harassment. Rules and regulations. Federal Register. November 10. 1980; 45:219; 74676-74677.

3. Wagner EJ. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Hau· to Prevent. Investigate, and Resolve Problems in Your Organization. New York, NY; American Management Association; 1992.

4. Bernstein AE, Lenhart SA. The Pxychodynamic Treatment of Women. Wushington. DC: American Psychiatric Press Ine; 1993.

5. Lenhart SA. Health and mental health aspects of sexual harassment. In: Shrier DK. ed. Sexual Harassment in the WwiîpftitÎ onci Academia: Psychiatrie Jssut's. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Ine; 1 996.

6. Jensvold MF. The poten liai for misuse and abuse of psychiatry in workplace sexual harassment. In: Shrier DK, ed. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Academia: Psychiatric issues. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Ine; 1996.

7. Charney DA. Russell RC. An overview of sexual harassment. Am ·/ Psyc./iiatry. 1994; 151(1>:10-17.

8. Crull P. Stress effects of sexual harassment on the job: implications for counseling. Ani J Orthopsychiatry. 1982; 52L3J:ü39-544.

9. Gutek BA, KÖMS MP. Changed women and changed organizations: consequences of and coping with sexual harassment. -Journal of Vocational Behavior. 1993; 42llt:28-48.

10. Lenhart SA. Psychological Consequences of Sexual Hanmxrnent ami Gender Discrimination in the Workplace. New York: C.uilford Press; 1996.

11. Lenhart SA. Evans C. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination: a primer for women physicians. JAMA. 1991; 46:77-82.

12. Paludi M, ed, li.'ory Power: Sexual Harassment on Campus. Albany, NY: New State University of New York Press; 1990.

13. Shrier DK. ed. Sexual Hammim-nt in the Workplace and Academia: Psychiatric isauea. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Ine; 1996.

14. Jensvold MF. Workplace sexual harassment: the use» of and misuse and abuse of psychiatry. PsvcA.io.iric Annals. 1993; 23:438-445.

15. Williams v. Saxbe 413 R Supp. 654 (D.C.C. 1976l, rev'd on other grounds as Williams v. Bell, 587 F.2d 1240 D.C. Cir; 1978.

16. Barnes v. Coatte. 561 F.2d 983 D.C. Cir. 1977.

17. Meritor Savings Bank v Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 2399, 91L,. Ed.20.49. 1986.

18. Ellison L: B rati v, 9th Cir 924 F.2cl 872. 1991.

19. Harris v. Forklift Systems. Inc. 114 S. Ct. 367. 1993.

20. Women's Legal Defense Fund. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Washington. DC: Women's Legal Defense Fund; li-)91.

21. Terpstra DE. Baker DD. Outcomes of sexual harassment charges. Academy of Management Journal. 1988; 31:185194.

22. Terpstra DE. Baker DD, Outcomes of federal court decisions on sexual harassment. Actnlt'iny of Management Journal. 1902; 35:181-190.

23. Gutek BA. KOMS MP. How women deal with sexual harassment and organizational responses to reporting. Jn: Shrier DK. ed. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Academia: Psychiatric IKUUEK. Washington. DC: American Psychiatric Press, Ine: 1996.

24. Benedek EP. Forensic aspects of sexual harassment: serving as an expert witness, courtroom testimony ant] legal reports. In: Shrier DK, ed. Sexual Harassment in. the Workplace and Academia: Psychiatric Issues. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Ine; 1996.

25. National Organization for Women. Legal Defense and Education Flint/ !¿égal Resource Kit: Employment Sexual Harassment. New York. NY: NOW: 1992.

26. Sehrafhm i.H. Sexual harassment iti the courts or therapy goes to war: supporting a sexual harassment patient during litigation. In: Shrier DK. ed. Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Academia: Psychiatric Issues. Washington. DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc: 1996.

10.3928/0048-5713-19960301-07

Sign up to receive

Journal E-contents