Lawmakers unveil bill to hold employers responsible for supervisors’ sexual harassment

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WASHINGTON (PAI) - A coalition of congressional Democrats, backed by much of organized labor, introduced legislation on Mar. 14 to hold employers responsible for their lower-level supervisors' sexual harassment of workers on the job.

The Fair Employment Protection Act would overturn a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits employer responsibility for sexual harassment. The court said that if supervisors who direct employees' daily work, but do not have the power to hire, fire or discipline workers, harass the workers, then the employer is not legally responsible for the supervisors' actions.

The new measure would make the employer responsible for those low-level supervisors' harassment, in suits under civil rights laws. It would not change who is a "supervisor" under federal labor law.

Unions backing the measure include the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Communications Workers, the National Consumers League, AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees, the Teachers, the UAW, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Education Association, Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, Unite Here, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Working America.

"Workplace harassment remains an unacceptable reality that threatens the economic security of far too many people, particularly women, working to build a better future for themselves and their families," said the lead Senate sponsor, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. "Harassment has no place in the workplace and should never impede economic success."

The bill, whose House sponsors are Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee, and influential Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut would "restore important workplace protections, move this issue forward, and help provide American workers the level playing field they deserve," Baldwin added.

The legislation corrects the court's decision in a case involving Ball State University in Indiana, which the five-man GOP-named Supreme Court majority extended to all employers. Overruling the court, the legislation says a supervisor is, under civil rights laws, someone "in charge of an employee's daily work activities, thus able to reassign an employee whom they are harassing," a fact sheet says.

That's the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guideline for who is a supervisor that the justices overturned. "The bill is consistent with years of EEOC guidance on employer liability and has been endorsed by many of the nation's largest civil rights and labor organizations," the fact sheet adds.

Other backers include the National Partnership for Women & Families, 9to5, the Labor Project for Working Families, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Legal Momentum, MALDEF, MomsRising, CASA de Maryland, the NAACP and its legal defense fund, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of La Raza, the National Employment Law Project, the National Organization for Women, the National Women's Law Center, Wider Opportunities for Women and the Women's Law Project.

Debra Ness, the National Partnership's executive director, called the new legislation "a badly needed step toward restoring essential protections for workers who face harassment from supervisors on the job. The Supreme Court eroded those protections in its troubling decision last year. This legislation is needed to enable victims of supervisor harassment of all kinds to hold their employers accountable.

"No one should face harassment at work, especially at the hands of the very people who have the power to control their day-to-day work and inflict harm," she stated.

Photo: Steven Senne/AP

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