Proud member of the Sexual Harassment Defense Industrial Complex since 1988.
Loosely defined, the complex is a mix of lawyers, public relations professionals, female character witnesses and pundits who play a role in beating back sexual harassment claims when they are leveled against powerful men backed by a powerful institution. It also includes “in-depth internal investigations,” . . . which are often led by attorneys hired to defend the companies.
Heaven forbid that companies confer with their attorneys and PR professionals when a high-profile sexual harassment case comes their way. Apparently they are supposed to meekly #BelieveWomen without any attempt to find out the truth, and take their PR lumps -- whether deserved or not -- while they're at it.
And guess who thinks it's so awful that we have this "Sexual Harassment Defense Industrial Complex"? Why, it's the lawyers representing the alleged victims! Here's what plaintiff's lawyer Ari Wilkenfeld had to say:
The developments in the law have allowed defense attorneys who specialize in sexual harassment cases to sell corporate clients a smorgasbord of products, from boilerplate policies to trial defense — none of which, Wilkenfeld says, have had any measurable impact on the sexual harassment problem “other than to make a ton of money for these lawyers.” With these attorneys’ help, corporations are treating sexual harassment less as a legal or ethical problem than a public relations one, where employers “are making a big show of conducting internal investigations.”
I am touched that Mr. Wilkenfeld cares so deeply that employers be good stewards of their money. What a guy.
The defense bar -- sorry, I mean the Sexual Harassment Defense Industrial Complex -- could just as accurately accuse plaintiffs' attorneys of showboating while accomplishing very little for their actual, living clients. And PR campaigns? Give me a break. Companies need their own PR campaigns because you guys have made this into a PR issue.
Don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends represent plaintiffs, and they are outstanding lawyers who care about their clients. I don't know Mr. Wilkenfeld, but he may fall into this category. I hear that they get somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of any settlement or judgment they can get against an employer, so they make some good money, too. I have no problem with that.
I also know that women (and men) are sexually harassed in the workplace and that some companies have responded inadequately. In some cases, they've been worse than inadequate -- they may have egged on the harassers or retaliated against victims for complaining.
I would even concede that some harassment investigations are nothing but a PR whitewash.
But the vast majority of employers care very much about preventing and remedying any sexual harassment that takes place in their workplaces. Those "boilerplate policies" can help to educate employees about their rights and also let them know the type of behavior that is unacceptable. (The same is true for harassment training.)
By the way, our firm has a boilerplate harassment policy. We offer it free on our website to anybody who wants it.
When most employers commission an investigation, they let the chips fall where they may, and they take appropriate action against the harasser and to protect the victim if the allegations are substantiated.
The WaPo article had a comment from a person who is after my own heart:
Tell it, captcoley!
I'm afraid this "industrial complex" thing is going to catch on. After the WaPo article appeared, The Wall Street Journal had an op-ed piece from writer Abigail Shrier, who argued that Bill Clinton did not sexually harass Monica Lewinsky. (I agree, and said the same thing here in 2016.) According to Ms. Shrier,
The harassment-industrial complex—lawyers, human-resources professionals, activists—has installed itself as our collective chaperone, the high priest of courtship, vested with power to decide which advances are kosher.
Ms. Shrier's "complex" seems to be a bigger tent, consisting of lawyers on both sides, HR, and activists. I'm not going to comment about "activists," but I think she fails to sufficiently acknowledge the fact that lawyers on the defense side and HR are only doing what they have to do to protect their clients and employers from liability. If we seem a little skittish about consensual relationships, flirting, vulgarity, and "playful" behavior, it's because we've seen where that type of behavior at work can lead.