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People's Law Guide


Sexual Harassment: Many Teenagers Filing Complaints



      If your teenager has a part-time or full-time job and is more “moody” than usual, don’t hastily assume these behavior quirks are nothing to worry about. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that teenagers, females and males, are frequently targeted for sexual harassment at fast food restaurants, movie theaters, construction companies and other types of low paying workplaces mostly likely to employ young workers.  One complaint came from a 14-year-old reporting having been sexually harassed at work.

      Actually, many of the complaints lodged with the EEOC and local police departments have come from the parents of teens, because their sons and daughters were too embarrassed or  intimidated to report the incidents themselves. 

Emotional Clues

      The National Crime Prevention Council reports teenagers usually find it even more difficult than adults to come to grips with having been sexually harassed. For teenagers, NCPC determined, the “shock, shame and stigma” frequently become overwhelming, particularly when coupled with these youthful concerns: 

* Fearing nobody will believe them;
* Believing they’ll be blamed or punished;
* A mistrust of adults;
* Not knowing about legal remedies;
* Being frightened about retaliation; and
* Disbelieving that anything will be done.
      Parents should be observant for behavioral “clues,” often subtle and difficult to detect, because they can be intensified forms of the same emotions teens typically exhibit, NCPC notes. Sexually harassed teens typically display at least one of what NCPC refers to as the “big four” symptoms: 

       ISOLATION: Feeling different from their peer group, the teen drops this group of friends or finds that they have dropped him or her.
      HELPLESSNESS: The teen feels nothing can be done to change the situation.  Nobody can or will help them, or no one cares about them.
      HOPELESSNESS: Loss of hope that life will return to normal or that the future will be better. 
      POWERLESSNESS: The teen feels a lack of control or personal power.

A Large Scale Problem

      Thirty-five percent of high school students holding jobs have been sexually harassed at work, according to a recent University of Florida study. Well over a third of those sexually harassed were young males. Nineteen percent of all employed teenagers have been sexually harassed by  supervisors or managers.  Coworkers of similar ages were responsible for 61% of sexual   harassment teens experienced, UF’s report  revealed.

      The magnitude of the problem becomes clearer, the UF study notes, when considering  nearly 70% of teens 16 and 17 years of age in the United States hold jobs. Surprisingly, the U.S. has among the highest teen employment rates of all industrialized nations, the report added.

      Adolescents suffer “the highest rates of rape and other sexual assaults of any age group,” according to an American Academy of Pediatrics’ report on adolescent sexual assault victims. Of all persons, females and males between 16 - 19 years of age are at the greatest likelihood of becoming sex crime victims, according to the UF study.   
      The psychological trauma associated with unwanted sex is not the only concern facing young people and their parents. Among female teens, 4.3% of those who did not have sex within three months prior to being assaulted caught a sexually transmitted disease (STD) other than HIV, according to a 2002 study published in Pediatric Emergency Care. Of those young women acknowledging recent sexual activity, 14.4% acquired an STD during the sexual assault.

      When  female teens do report non-consensual intercourse, they do so less promptly then adult females, according to the earlier cited AAP study.  This may explain why 5% of the young females having non-consensual intercourse become pregnant and forced sexual intercourse led to a 30% pregnancy rate among young women who ovulated 1 to  2 days after sex, PEC reported. Ninety percent of these pregnancies resulted from men who were not strangers, researchers found.

      For young men and women, harassment involving sexual acts also places them at risk for infection of the AIDS virus, though the odds of becoming HIV+ vary with type of sex engaged in, according to PEC.

Severe Emotional Consequences

      As do employees in all age groups, teens who have been sexually harassed suffer emotionally. While males and females exhibit many of same responses to verbal sexual humiliation and unwelcome physical advances, variations between the genders do occur.  
      Female Teens: Young women respond to these incidents with increased alcohol consumption, but at lower quantities then male victims,  according to a 1996 research article by J.M. Chandler and R.W. Resnick, M.D. Female adolescents are more prone than young males to “internalizing behaviors” of depression and anxiety, Chandler and Resnick reported. While young male victims also can feel anxious and depressed, females exhibit the symptoms at higher levels and with greater severity, according to a 2002 published report on gender and post traumatic stress syndrome by David Tolin and Edna Foa.

      As have other authors, Tolin and Foa  concluded females are more likely than males to blame themselves, though these researchers question whether this difference between the genders is as large as reported elsewhere.  Also, compared to males who were sexually assaulted, these researchers determined females have a higher prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder, commonly abbreviated as PTSD. Those affected by PTSD may suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, sleep difficulties, memory lapses, and appetite changes, and avoidance of pleasurable activities,, according to PEC.  Symptoms can sometimes take months to surface, the researchers noted.

      In that females are sexually harassed and exploited much more often then males, women  benefit by being more likely to bond together, showing support for each other, and helping each other cope with their experiences, the Australian Institute of Criminology has determined.

      Male Teens: Males are less likely than females to report incidents of sexual mistreatment, often fearing people will think they’re gay, although most men who commit male on male sexual assaults consider themselves to be heterosexual,  according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs fact sheet on male sexual trauma. Further, victimization does not cause changes in sexual orientation, the VA and virtually all other experts note. After being sexually victimized, young men sometimes take up dangerous “macho” activities.   Parents would be wise to discourage these “hyper-masculine” efforts of overcompensation,  the VA cautions. Male victims of sex offenses are more likely than females to display anger and violence, researchers Tolin and Foa warned.

      Sexually exploited male adolescents are also at higher risk than young women to perform poorly in school, engage in criminal or delinquent activities and to participate in sexual risk taking, according to Chandler and Resnick, who unlike most other investigators directed their studies toward male victims. Extreme increases in use of marijuana and alcohol are also common reactions among males experiencing sexual humiliation, they added.

      Young male sex offense victims have a higher frequency of suicide attempts than do  females, according to a 1997 study by the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Although usually in need of counseling, these adolescents are less likely to follow through with mental health therapy, believing those counseling them are poorly equipped to assist males, the Canadian Foster Family Association reported in a study titled “The Invisible Boy.”

Consensual Sex with Underage Employees

      Surprisingly, some judges believe employers should not be held civilly liable when their managers have consensual sex with employees below the age of consent, even though statutory rape laws make these criminally illegal offenses punishable with long prison sentences. Federal court judge John W. Darrah dismissed a lawsuit brought a 16 year old female employee who worked as a “scooper” in an ice cream parlor, despite witness testimony that 25 year old supervisor, Matt Nayman, frequently groped and grabbed females during work. During her job tenure, the girl had sexual intercourse with Nayman, came to regret it, and reported him to Bartlett, Illinois police, who arrested Nayman on statutory rape charges. A criminal court judge sentenced Nayman to prison.

      Ruling the case lacked merit, partly because the teenage employee voluntarily consented to the supervisor’s desire to have sexual intercourse with her away from the store after work hours, Judge Durrah dismissed the sexual harassment lawsuit against the Oberweis Dairy. A higher level court of appeal later required the case to be reinstated. When ordering Judge Darrah to permit the case to proceed to trial, Judge Richard Posner, whose numerous appellate court rulings have made him well known in legal circles, wrote that managers and supervisors of underage workers “must exercise greater care than is required in a case of routine harassment by a coworker.”  Posner noted that other shift supervisors were aware of Nayman’s sexually suggestive behavior with teenage “scoopers,” the supervisor was known to be alcoholic; and, he frequently invited young employees to his apartment.  Other supervisors withheld this information from higher level managers. Employers of teenagers act at their own “peril,” Posner cautioned, when failing “to warn parents that they knew or should have known their children are a substantial risk of statutory rape” by an older supervisor. Filed under a generic name to protect the identity of the underage sex crime victim bringing the lawsuit, the case of Jane Doe v. Oberweis Dairy is now set for trial in February, 2008.

      Not everyone in positions of authority adheres to Judge Posner’s reasoning. In one of my cases, an EEOC investigator challenged the legal basis of my client’s sexual harassment complaint, because the then 15 year old employee had consented to a long-term sexual affair with her supervisor. The investigator was either unaware of or disagreed with the EEOC policy prohibiting sexual relationships between supervisors and underage employees. Rather then let the investigator proceed with the case, I obtained a “Right to Sue” letter removing the case from EEOC jurisdiction and have since filed this lawsuit.

Obtaining Justice

      As typically happens with employment law cases, employers eventually enter into confidential settlement agreements with those who have sued them. Unlike cases filed by private attorneys on behalf of employees (or the parents of underage employees), the outcomes of the relatively few cases acted on by the EEOC do become public record, even when  disputes settle prior to trial. Here are outcomes of some cases in which employers have settled claims initiated by the EEOC when supervisors sexually harassed employees under 18 years of age.

Carmike Cinemas:  Pretrial settlement where a movie theater company in North Carolina agreed to pay $765,000 to 14 teenage males whose supervisor made sexual comments, groped them and made sexual advances.

Burger King Franchise:  $400,000 paid to seven females, six of whom were high school students, for a supervisor who engaged in groping, making sexual comments and demanding sexual favors. The St. Louis-area  employer also violated the law by withholding training on how to internally  file complaints of discrimination. After women did file internal complaints, the employer promoted the harasser to a restaurant manager position.

Longhorn Steak Franchise:  $200,000 paid to three females, one a 16 year old in a high school enrolled in an on the job training course. An assistant manager working at this Florida restaurant would grab the employees’ breasts, inappropriately touch their hips and lower backs and make sexually charged comments.

McDonald’s Franchise:   $550,000 paid by a multi state company owning fast food outlets to eight teenage women. EEOC charged that the manager had sexually harassed teens in more then one of the company’s restaurants in New Mexico and California.

Driveway Paving Company:  Jurors awarded $585,000 to 13 young woman, mostly teenagers, who were subject to sexual harassment from salespersons and managers. Some women had resigned from the Rochester, NY employer for intolerable working conditions. $260,000 of the reward was for punitive damages.

Bob Evans Restaurant:   This Missouri employer paid a $250,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by eight women claiming sexual harassment, including three teenagers. One of the teens was represented by a private attorney, whose fees were paid for by the employer. The EEOC litigated on behalf of the other women.

Jack In The Restaurant Chain:   Five women, three under 21,filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination against a direct supervisor who subjected them to lewd remarks and sexual overtures at their Seattle job site.

L & L Wings Retail Store: The North Carolina owner / operator of this nation chain of beach apparel stores paid $115,000 to settle claims of four 16 to 18 year old teens for making lewd comments about their bodies, questioning them about their sexual experiences, touching their buttocks and legs and for propositioning them for sex.

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