Writers Speak Out About Sexual Harassment in the Literary Communities of New York City and Elsewhere

Despite major advances in New York sexual harassment laws, harassment continues to pervade nearly every type of workplace, affecting the lives and careers of countless people of all genders. Statutes like the New York City Human Rights Law prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes certain forms of sexual harassment. An essay published in early 2017 describes the author’s experience with sexual harassment in the literary world, starting with her experiences with a professor in her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. In educational settings, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 addresses sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. The literary community presents a complicated mix of relationships between writers, editors, publishers, and others, in which sexual harassment is reportedly a frequent occurrence, but sources of legal relief are not always obvious.

Numerous statutes address sexual harassment in workplaces and schools. Disparities in power between complainants and alleged harassers are a major factor in classifying sexual harassment as sex discrimination. Courts have found that two forms of sexual harassment constitute sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary federal employment anti-discrimination law, as well as Title IX and other statutes. Pervasive and unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that, in the aggregate, creates a hostile work environment is one form. The other form, known as quid pro quo sexual harassment, involves a supervisor or other person in a position of authority demanding some sort of sexual activity as a condition of hiring, continued employment, or other features or benefits of employment. Both forms of sexual harassment can have a significant impact on people who work, or are seeking to start a career, in the literary field.

In an essay published in February 2017 in the literary magazine Tin House, an author recounts numerous instances of alleged sexual harassment in her literary career. She begins with a description of “a predatory, exploitative teacher” she met in her MFA program when she was 22 years old. Her account of abusive and exploitative behavior clashes with her description of his public persona as “a much beloved and celebrated storyteller.” After she “broke free” from him and went on to a Ph.D program, she began to have similar experiences with a teacher at her new school. She states that, this time, she “[u]nmistakeably recogniz[ed]…a road I’d already been down” and reported the teacher to the administration. Their investigation reportedly concluded that his behavior was “just his way of complimenting and supporting [her],” rather than sexual harassment.

Eleven writers offered responses to this essay the following month on the website Literary Hub. One writer describes the power dynamics involved in sexual harassment in any workplace and notes how people in positions of power or authority “offer ‘mentorship’ by way of seduction.” Few people ever speak up out of fear of damage to their career prospects. Laws prohibiting retaliation for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace do not always apply in situations in which the relationship between the complainant and the alleged harasser is not based on employment. Legal remedies might involve laws addressing harassment, negligence, or intentional torts.

The skilled and experienced sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for employees and job seekers throughout New York City, helping them assert claims based on sexual advances, hostile work environment, and other unlawful workplace practices. Contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.

More Blog Posts:

Sexual Harassment Allegations Affect Entertainment Business in New York City and Hollywood, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 15, 2018

Servers in Restaurants in New York City and Nationwide Face Rampant Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 16, 2018

New York City Sexual Harassment Law Influences Lawmakers Around the Country, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 1, 2018

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