Women’s Media Center: What Can We Learn From the Cuomo Case About Workplace Sexual Harassment?
September 8. 2021
ERA Senior Counsel for Workplace Justice & Public Policy Jessica Stender was interviewed for a Women’s Media Center story about the sexual harassment complaints against NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and what the case indicates for the progress of the Me Too movement and related policies:
The media attention around the case may help to “show the common themes in workplace sexual harassment, especially with a repeat harasser,” said Jessica Ramey Stender, senior counsel of workplace justice and public policy at Equal Rights Advocates. “There was a power imbalance with the perpetrator in a supervisory position, and the accusers were aides or had less power. The accusations were not taken seriously, and it appears that some women experienced retaliation, including one woman who was transferred, and another who, after reporting the harassment, the executive chamber actively engaged in an effort to discredit her by leaking records related to her employment.”
It may also offer some clarity about what actually constitutes workplace harassment, which, in the Cuomo case, included groping and kissing, and also unwelcome inquiries about the women’s dating life and comments on their bodies. “Not only is it inappropriate, but in some instances, also illegal,” said Stender. This behavior should not just be considered “part of getting a paycheck, part of the job and that some women may assume that they have to put up with it.”
The Cuomo case should be a reminder for just how pervasive this problem is. “This case shows that if this type of behavior is enabled and allowed to persist in one of the highest levels of offices in state government, it’s happening in all types of workplaces, especially where there isn’t as much public scrutiny, and especially in low-wage jobs,” said Stender.