Sexual Harassment Cases in Massachusetts State Government on the Rise

| Jan 9, 2020 | Employment Law |

How common is sexual harassment in Massachusetts state government and is it more prevalent in some agencies than in others?

Through a public records request to the Massachusetts state Human Resources Division, the Republican/MassLive compiled a list of 117 complaints made to executive branch Massachusetts state agencies alleging sexual harassment, or in a few cases gender discrimination, from fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2018.

The numbers were drawn from quarterly spreadsheets of Health and Human Services investigations and quarterly workforce diversity reports from other agencies.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination provided a list of another 45 complaints of public sector sexual harassment or sex discrimination. Some involve Massachusetts state executive branch agencies, but that list also includes complaints against municipalities, higher education institutions, county sheriffs, the trial court and other public agencies.

At the end of fiscal 2018, there were 84,100 state government employees, including 44,500 in the executive branch.

The human resources data documents approximately 94 complaints at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the state’s largest agency. Of those, the Department of Developmental Services, which cares for adults with disabilities, reported 23. Another 13 involved the Department of Youth Services, and there were 12 at the Department of Public Health.

According to the Office of Health and Human Services, all employees undergo mandatory harassment and diversity training run by the Human Resources Department. The agency runs in-person trainings on respect, civility, fair employment practices and harassment.

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services does not tolerate any form of harassment in the workplace and strives to ensure that our 23,000 employees feel safe and supported while at work according to a spokewoman for the Health and Human Services. Each complaint of harassment is immediately and thoroughly investigated in collaboration with the state’s Human Resources Division according to the department.

The other complaints were scattered across agencies, with nine at the Department of Transportation, five at the Department of Correction, and three at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Experts say agencies should not necessarily be judged negatively based on how many complaints they report, since it may mean they are better at tracking complaints.

Every place has its challenges, and the differences we’re seeing are differences in sophistication of data being reported according to Lauren Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and author of “The Shield of Silence: How Power Perpetuates a Culture of Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace.”

MCAD spokesman H Harrison said that agency has seen a spike in complaints since the #MeToo movement called public attention to workplace harassment of women. “As news coverage was really focused on #MeToo movement, a lot of people were more emboldened to speak out against it. There was a sense people can seek justice and get justice from coming forward,” Harrison said.

The number of cases brought does not indicate the prevalence of sexual harassment.Some women may be hesitant to report because there is no witness to corroborate their case, or they do not believe their superiors will care.

A lot of women either a) don’t report, b) leave their jobs and may or may not report, or c) may report and it’s resolved, and it never gets to MCAD or court. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

When you call us to discuss a potential sexual harassment claim, we listen with care and compassion. We also pledge to address your concerns honestly, presenting an accurate portrayal of what you can expect as you move forward.

Attorney Lazar will offer guidance on how to handle your current job, as appropriate, and will explain the process of filing a claim. With our experience, we know that confronting the issue of sexual harassment is very difficult and extremely personal. That is why we take the time to help you weigh the benefits of filing your claim, including the compensation you could receive, whether your job could be restored, and other positive outcomes. You deserve to be well-informed before making a decision about how to proceed. We are here to help you and charge no attorneys’ fees unless you collect compensation.

Contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to get the help you need.

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