Sexual Harassment Reportedly Remains Rampant on Wall Street

Our society has made enormous strides toward freeing the workplace from all sorts of discrimination and harassment, but sometimes looking at how far we have come shows us how far we still have to go. A recent article in the New York Post profiles a woman who resigned from her Wall Street firm after a decade, due in part to what she describes as a work culture that “harasse[s], dehumanize[s, and] humiliate[s]” female employees. Laws at the federal, state, and local levels in New York City prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes sexual harassment. In many sectors of our economy, however, entrenched traditions or cultures still favor particular concepts of gender—usually the standard heterosexual, cisgender male archetype. Statutes, regulatory fines, and lawsuits may not be enough to bring lasting, meaningful change.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a); and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a); prohibit sex discrimination in employment. Under most anti-discrimination statutes, sexual harassment is considered to be a form of unlawful sex discrimination. See Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986). This includes quid pro quo sexual harassment, by which a supervisor or manager requests or demands sexual contact or activity as a condition of employment, and pervasive sexual remarks or overtures that create a hostile work environment. While a case alleging sexual harassment by a supervisor often only requires proof of the offensive conduct and the resulting harm, a case alleging harassment by a co-worker might also require proof that management was aware of the problem but failed to act.

Despite 30 years of caselaw and legislation, starting with Vinson in 1986, sexual harassment remains a serious problem in many workplaces around the country. The Post’s profile of the former Wall Street employee illustrates its extent at the highest levels of our financial sector. Examples of “sexual degradation of female traders” include “[m]en openly debat[ing] hiring women based on their looks,” a wide array of sexually explicit remarks and text messages, and even men engaging in sexual activity in front of other employees. The article also describes numerous examples of harassment of women who become pregnant or take maternity leave.

The particular culture of certain Wall Street financial firms, which prizes traits commonly deemed “masculine” in our society, creates what the Post calls “an insidious reverse psychology” for female employees:  if they are not “tough enough” to handle pranks in the workplace, how can they be trusted to “move billions of dollars around?” This mode of thinking tends to ignore that the way women are treated in these sorts of environments is often different from the type of “hazing” male employees face. It is often intended to isolate or exclude female employees, rather than initiate them. Legal processes, including lawsuits, help to keep these issues in the public eye, but cultural changes are also necessary. Fortunately, articles like the one in the Post suggest that these changes are underway.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment attorneys help prospective, current, and former employees in the New York City area assert claims for sexual harassment and other unlawful employment practices under federal, state, and city laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled employee rights advocate, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Allegations Mount Against University Scientists, Raising Questions of Legal Remedies, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 17, 2016

Actors Fight Against Sexual Harassment in New York City Theater, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 29, 2016

New Laws Addressing Sexual Harassment, Pregnancy Discrimination, and Other Employment Issues Take Effect in New York, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 11, 2016

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