Comedy Scenes in Major U.S. Cities, Including New York, Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment

MicrophoneNew York City’s entertainment scene is one of the most vibrant in the world, offering an almost literally endless range of options, including theater, music, film, fashion, and comedy. Sadly, every one of these scenes is prone to sexual harassment and other issues that make them uninviting, or even dangerous, for many people. Anti-discrimination laws at the municipal, state, and federal levels protect workers in New York City from sexual harassment and sex discrimination, but the extent to which these laws apply in the entertainment world is not always clear. In the comedy scenes of several big cities, comedians are taking matters into their own hands, in a manner of speaking, finding ways to push back against those who commit acts of sexual harassment and worse both on- and backstage.

Sexual harassment, broadly defined to include unwanted comments or overtures of a sexual nature, as well as direct requests or demands for sexual activity in some form as a condition of employment, is considered a type of sex discrimination under most anti-discrimination statutes. The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 all take this view of sexual harassment.

These laws’ protections only extend to “employees,” such as salaried or hourly workers and, in some situations under the NYCHRL, unpaid interns. Some entertainers, such as performers in Broadway theaters, meet this definition of “employee,” but many do not. A significant number of actors, musicians, comedians, and other entertainers do not get paid for their work, and many who do are more like independent contractors than employees. Several groups of comedians have found other means to combat sexual harassment. In the absence of specific legal remedies, they are turning to the theaters—and each other—to make their claims.

Chicago is a major center for comedy performers, with several theaters that have trained some of today’s greatest comedians. In January 2016, the founder of a prominent comedy theater posted a message to the social media platform Facebook addressing allegations of sexual harassment from several female performers against at least one male theater employee. This led to a lengthy discussion in the comments to the post, and the conversation soon expanded into the “real world.” Women from all over the country shared stories about their experiences, which ranged from misogynistic treatment to sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape. Many of them also noted that the theaters rarely took action to remedy the situations, and sometimes they retaliated against women who spoke up.

At that particular Chicago comedy theater, multiple female performers and employees came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against a male employee. The theater fired him in February 2016. Beginning in late 2015 and continuing into 2016, female comedians in Los Angeles and New York City also came forward with allegations of sexual assault against several male performers. Theaters in Los Angeles have banned at least three male performers as a result of multiple allegations. A major comedy theater in New York City announced a total ban on a male comedian in August 2016, after numerous women made accusations of sexual assault and rape.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment attorneys advocate for the rights of employees, former employees, and job seekers in New York City in claims for unlawful employment practices like sexual harassment and sex discrimination. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and experienced team, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Employment Anti-Discrimination Laws and Cyberbullying in the Workplace, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 28, 2016

2016 Marks the 20th Anniversary of a Groundbreaking Wall Street Sexual Harassment Lawsuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 24, 2016

Congress Considers Bills That Would Extend Sexual Harassment Protections to Unpaid Interns, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 17, 2016

Photo credit: Benjamin Ragheb [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.

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