Legal expert says retaliation common with sexual harassment

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- After a former Nelson County Sheriff’s deputy publicly alleged she was forced to resign after reporting sexual harassment by a supervisor, a legal expert says the issue is widespread and reluctance to report is common.

"There are a lot of impediments to even reporting in the first place, just based on the stigma that's around sexual violence at all,” said Linda Seabrook, director of workplace safety and equity for Futures Without Violence, a San Francisco-based nonprofit devoted to ending violence against women and children around the world.

Seabrook says one of the impediments to reporting sexual harassment is fear of retaliation.

"If you're harassed at work, you also have the other impediment of feeling that you might be fired or otherwise retaliated against for reporting the conduct," she said.

Fear is what initially prevented a female deputy in the Nelson County Sheriff's Office from reporting sexual harassment by a supervisor. That deputy spoke to CBS19 on condition of anonymity.

"I expected that there might be some backlash from people that I worked with because they’d known this individual a lot longer than I had,” she said.

But it ended up to be worse than that.

"I was given the option to resign or be fired," the deputy said.

Seabrook can't comment on the deputy's specific case. But she says statistics show the situation is not uncommon.

"Around 75 percent of EEOC sexual harassment charges are also accompanied by a retaliation charge," she said.

And she says sexual harassment is more common in male-dominated fields like construction and law enforcement.

"There's a feeling that this is a man's industry, a male-dominated industry, and that women coming in to this industry are trying to gain power and are kind of interlopers,” Seabrook said. “So a good way to kind of check that is to engage in harassment and discrimination and ultimately retaliation."

Seabrook says federal law under Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting it, even if the retaliation doesn't come directly from the individual accused of the harassment. For more information on how to report workplace sexual harassment, click on the link in the Related Links box.

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