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While it has long been clear that victims of sexual harassment often face reprisals that can damage their careers, the financial costs they incur are difficult to quantify.
To put a number on it, a study published Wednesday by Time’s Up and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), “Paying Today and Tomorrow,” sought to determine what people who had been harassed ended up paying. The interviewed victims faced costs ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For a woman working in the high-paying, male-dominated construction industry, the lifetime cost could be $1.3 million, according to the study. Even someone forced out of a low-paying job, such as those in the fast food industry, saw financial consequences totaling $125,600.
The workers who took part in the survey came from a variety of industries, from technology to trucking to cleaning services. Almost everyone said they lost some work or were fired altogether.
Most lost responsibilities and paid in retaliation for speaking – they were held for hours, given poor performance evaluations, or were denied bonuses and promotions until fired or fired. Some remained unemployed for up to five years.
Many changed careers, starting at the bottom in jobs that paid far less than what they left behind, according to the study. For some, it meant spending even more money on retraining or tuition. Meanwhile, they all suffered from lost wages, lost health benefits and depleted retirement savings as debt piled up.
When the #MeToo movement took off in earnest in 2018, “we had all these women sharing their stories,” said IWPR president C. Nicole Mason. But “we had very little research or data on what this means for women’s economic mobility, security and career mobility. We really couldn’t answer that question.”
Data can be hard to find. Settlements usually come with nondisclosure agreements, and the government doesn’t require companies to report whether women leave because of harassment.
“We took it as a personal indictment to quantify this,” Mason said.
The case of Marlene is an excellent illustration of what can happen. Asking to be identified by her first name only because of ongoing lawsuits, Marlene said colleagues at the agency where she worked warned that she had been promoted for the wrong reasons. According to a lawsuit she filed in May, Marlene quickly discovered what they meant.
Two months after she started her new job as an executive assistant, she claimed her supervisor started making comments about her appearance and her personal life. Then he started leaving little presents with handwritten cards in her office at night, she said.
But when Marlene told him she wasn’t interested, everything changed — he started sending a barrage of emails demanding more work. When she complained, according to court papers, Marlene was relieved of duties and privileges while her supervisor was promoted. She was also moved from the C-suite to a reception area – right next to the copier.
Marlene said she concluded she had no future at the agency and quit. She was given the right to sue a letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and did so in state court. But she also moved to another state, where she was forced to take an entry-level job in another field, one in which she had no experience, she said. Years later, Marlene said she hasn’t made the kind of money she made from her old job yet.
Marlene’s allegations are the kind that many companies try to avoid with proper training and warnings of potential harassment. But even now, according to the IWPR, at least a quarter of women still experience sexual harassment at work. The financial impact affects the gender pay gap, earning them 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. Many of the Time’s Up and IWPR women interviewed left high-paying jobs, some in male-dominated spaces, for lower-paying jobs.
Men can also be harassed. Anthoné Gerenis, who filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2019, said he started working at a real estate company in Gainesville, Florida, at the age of 19. Within two years, he worked his way up to the company’s headquarters, eventually moving into human resources.
Within a month of starting his new position, Gerenis claimed an older colleague had made unwanted advances. I felt “pure terror”, Gerenis said in an interview, because he “had my whole life in his hands”. When Gerenis turned him down, he was stripped of responsibilities and subsequently fired, according to his EEOC filing.
Gerenis said he lost his health insurance, struggled to pay for his glaucoma medications, and used up his savings over time. “I went from a $103,000 compensation package to applying for food stamps,” he said in an interview. “Everything I’ve lost – now you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
While trying to find other work, Gerenis said he felt like he was blacklisted. Nine years of experience and two awards earn him no callbacks. “This is my whole career and I feel so left out,” he said. “You are forever affected and forever touched by the action of just one bad actor.”
IWPR and Time’s Up said studying these types of cases is just the beginning and they plan to conduct a broader analysis.
“The talks in 2018 were about lawsuits and liability,” Mason said of the start of #MeToo. “This moment is really looking at what the impact is, how do we talk about what we lose economically.”
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