Survey Reveals Rampant Sexual and Racial Harassment Among Space Scientists

Solar systemSexual harassment pervades almost every type of workplace throughout the country. While New York sexual harassment statutes offer employees tools to fight back against harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation, new stories of harassment appear nearly every day alongside success stories. It is worth examining how the law protects people from harassment in the workplace, and how the law falls short. Laws like the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provide protection against these practices, but many industries and professions continue to maintain cultures that often seem to support the harassers over the harassed. A story published last year in the Washington Post describes a survey of space scientists, which indicated that both racial and sexual harassment are significant concerns, particularly for women of color working in that field.

The NYCHRL, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and many other statutes prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and other factors. Sexual harassment is generally considered to be a form of sex discrimination under all of these statutes. Unlawful sexual harassment includes a range of acts, including unwelcome sexual remarks, jokes, or overtures that, in the aggregate, create a hostile work environment. Acts that, examined in isolation, might seem relatively minor could become part of a hostile work environment if they occur in vast numbers. A small number of acts could constitute a hostile work environment if they are particularly severe.

Many workers do not speak out about harassment for fear of losing their jobs or suffering other punitive actions. In addition to prohibiting sexual harassment, these laws also prohibit retaliation against employees who report concerns to a supervisor or manager, who take other actions to oppose the alleged harassment internally, or who make a report to a government agency like the New York City Human Rights Commission or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

While the protections offered by these laws are substantial, they only allow responses to discriminatory or retaliatory acts. Reducing harassment in the workplace also requires taking on the attitudes and beliefs that allow such behaviors to continue, and the structures that allow such attitudes and beliefs to persist. The study mentioned above found high rates of reported harassment against women of color. Under-representation of women of color in fields like the space sciences might partially explain the issue.

A paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets in July 2017 reported the findings of a survey of over 400 astronomers and planetary scientists, conducted from 2011 to 2015, about hostile and otherwise negative workplace experiences. Women accounted for almost two-thirds of the total number of respondents. Nearly 90 percent reported witnessing harassment in some form based on sex, race, or other protected categories. The most harrowing accounts came from women of color, 40 percent of whom “reported feeling unsafe in the workplace as a result of their gender or sex.” Twenty-eight percent of the women of color who responded reported feeling unsafe because of their race. The paper’s authors attribute much of this to the culture of the space sciences field, but they also note that “never has awareness of hostile workplace behaviors in the sciences been so strong, and the possibility for change so great.”

The sexual harassment lawyers at Phillips & Associates fight for the rights of New York City workers and job applicants, helping them assert claims for sexual harassment and other violations of city, state, and federal sexual harassment statutes. Contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Alleges Retaliation for Reporting Coworker’s Conduct, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 2, 2018

Television Production Companies Bear Responsibility for Investigating Alleged Sexual Misconduct Among Actors and Others, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 29, 2018

Writers Speak Out About Sexual Harassment in the Literary Communities of New York City and Elsewhere, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 22, 2018

Photo credit: Harman Smith and Laura Generosa (nee Berwin), graphic artists and contractors to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Contact Information