Squelching Sexual Harassment

If any good comes out of the tumultuous confrontation between the newest Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, and his accuser, Professor Anita F. Hill, it will be a renewed determination to curb sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. An important element of any new drive in this area would be passage of tougher remedies in these cases. As things now stand, workers who file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and win stand to gain little. They would be entitled to back pay and their old jobs-which they often wouldn't want. Bosses would be subject only to a court-ordered slap on the wrist, telling them not to do it again. It's little wonder that thousands of employees don't bring charges when they believe that they are being harassed. Victims of sex discrimination, which includes sexual harassment, should be entitled to monetary damages that go beyond back pay, just as victims of racial discrimination are. The White House and business groups would prefer to see a cap placed on damage awards. Such legislation is pending in Congress, with a cap of $300,000, and should be passed promptly.

The real burden of reining in on-the-job harassment, however, still falls on employers, whose efforts so far have done little to stem this seemingly pervasive problem. Policies should be clear. Managers should be required to attend training sessions. Both public and private employers must adopt grievance procedures that offer more protection for the accused and the accuser than the Senate Judiciary Committee provided. Complaints should be investigated quickly and confidentially. When there is merit to the complaint, punishment must be swift and tough. If management shows employees it takes the issue seriously, it won't have to worry about workers running to the courthouse.

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