Even in the #MeToo era, sexual harassment is not always taken seriously. Some employers continue to believe that if it’s not a violent crime, it doesn’t need as much attention.
For example, Naomi Churchill Earp, the nominee to lead the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) civil rights office, told the Senate Agriculture Committee in her confirmation hearing that she wants the Forest Service to separate sexual assault allegations from the “silliness” of sexual harassment allegations.
Earp made these outrageous comments as the Forest Service is currently working to address allegations from several female employees about a culture of sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination and retaliation.
The legality of sexual harassment
Earp’s comments misconstrue the seriousness of workplace harassment on the basis of sex and its illegality. In Washington, D.C., the DC Human Rights Act declares it unlawful for an employer or employee to “create a hostile environment based on any protected characteristic covered in the law.”
Because there are many high-ranking officials in both the private and public sector who believe sexual harassment isn’t serious because it is not necessarily a physically violent crime, victims are often left to advocate for themselves or with representation if the matter isn’t being handled properly. Sexual harassment is illegal in D.C. and in the rest of the United States, and employees should not have to wait to be assaulted before their concerns about a hostile work environment are taken seriously.