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Crime & Justice

4 things to know about sexual harassment laws

A picture taken on May 19, 2015 at Rennes' courthouse shows a statue of the goddess of Justice balancing the scales. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER        (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on May 19, 2015 at Rennes' courthouse shows a statue of the goddess of Justice balancing the scales. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)

It's been more than a week since reports surfaced that producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or abused dozens of women. Since then, victims from all walks of life have been coming forward with the hashtag #Me Too. 

This morning, female political players in California, from lobbyists to legislators, are adding their voices to the outcry. More than 140 women have signed a letter highlighting sexual harassment and misconduct that occurs in their arena

Federal and state labor laws that say it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender, and that applies to allegations of sexual harassment. The guidelines are clear, but it isn't always easy to recognize or even prove that it's happened.

To find out what the laws are and where they may fall short, Take Two's A Martinez spoke with Gowri Ramachandran, professor at Southwestern Law School. 

1. There are two types of sexual harassment in the workplace, as defined by state and federal laws.

Quid Quo Pro Harassment - A supervisor or employer might ask an employee or a perspective hire for some kind of sexual favor in return for the job or a promotion. The idea is, you give me this, I'll give you that. 

Hostile Work Environment Harassment- It involves making the working conditions for somebody different because of gender. It could be in a sexual manner so it could be groping, assault, those sorts of things. Language can constitute a hostile work environment. But a lot of laypersons believe that it constitutes sexual harassment under the law if you tell an off-color joke in the workplace, but most courts wouldn't really count that as a legal violation. Most courts would require something more pervasive, more severe. But certainly, if someone is using language that's harassing every day, that's going to change the other person's conditions of work.

2. Workplace laws don't apply to everyone in the workplace. 

Those laws only apply to employment relationships, so if someone truly is an independent contractor, they actually wouldn't be protected by those laws. You can sue someone for assaulting you. You can call the police and potentially press charges. So there are other avenues for independent contractors but unfortunately, the mechanism we have set up under the Civil Rights Act doesn't cover independent contractors. 

And if you are working in an industry that has a culture of silence around this issue, and a culture of not hearing victims, then it may be that a lawsuit is all one can do and all one can resort to. 

3. Those legally required workplace harassment training videos won't always tell you the whole story. 

Some of those training seminars don't actually state the law correctly. Usually, I think the firms that create those training videos are trying to simplify things for the employees which is definitely a good thing to do, but they often get the law wrong. Sometimes they say more things are covered by law than are, and sometimes they leave things out. 

4. It can be difficult to provide proof of harassment in any workplace, but creative industries offer an additional loophole.

I think retaliation in particular is probably a very strong fear for people who work in the entertainment industry because employers will always have an excuse to explain why they didn't give you the job. And that excuse would be, I just had creative differences with her, or I just saw a different script and so it's very hard to really prove that the reason someone was denied a job or an opportunity in a creative industry is because they're being retaliated against. 

To hear the full interview with Gowri Ramachandran, of the Southwestern Law School, click on the media player above.