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History of victim blaming is sex-based harassment

On Behalf of | Oct 13, 2021 | Employment Law

The U.S. justice system has a long history of wrongs against women. This includes not criminalizing all non-consensual sex and allowing pervasive sexual harassment against women. However, in modern times, as a country, we have set out to set those wrongs right. Unfortunately, when it comes to victim blaming in sex-based harassment cases, that is still the law of the land.

Is it okay to fire a woman because one is attracted to her?

In Iowa, yes. In 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court found that a dentist that fired his assistant because he was afraid he would cheat with her was not illegal discrimination. This was largely because that fear existed solely in the dentist’s head.

Could this happen at the federal level?

Yes. Under current U.S. law, whether sexual harassment is illegal is determined by whether that sexual conduct is unwelcomed. This means that sexual conduct directed towards a coworker is legal, regardless of power dynamic, unless the victim can prove that the conduct was unwelcomed. This allows the sexual predator to argue that it was welcomed conduct and blame the victim. Indeed, even where a CEO is sexually harassing a secretary or mail room clerk (i.e., a severe power imbalance), the victim still has to prove that harassing behavior was unwanted. Moreover, the sexual predator can enter in evidence of how the victim dressed, what she discussed with other co-workers in the office and really, any prejudicial evidence they can to blame the victim, regardless of applicability.

Why is this allowable?

Our Sherwood, Oregon, readers are likely shocked by this, but it is allowable based on U.S. Supreme Court case law. Specifically, the 1986 case, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson. In this case, the Supreme Court found that evidence of whether sexual conduct was unwelcome was absolutely relevant, which included how one dressed and how one conducted themselves at work.