#MeToo at MCAD

May 13, 2019

AET Headshot Photo 2019 (M1344539xB1386)By: Amanda E. Thibodeau

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) recently released its 2018 Annual Report. This Report ­­­features data and other important information about the MCAD’s operations and mission during that calendar year.

According to the 2018 Annual Report, sexual harassment claims filed with the MCAD increased 400 percent in January and February 2018 compared to those months in previous years. As the year went on, however, the number of new sexual harassment filings slowed.

While the Annual Report stops short of theorizing the reasons behind this drop off, the causes may be two-fold. The media coverage of the #MeToo movement, which gained notoriety in the fall of 2017, began to dwindle through late 2018. This decrease in intense media spotlight may have contributed to the number of potential claimants coming forward.

Another more hopeful reason could be that employers became more proactive on sexual harassment issues. The Annual Report noted that the MCAD received an “overwhelming” number of requests for sexual harassment prevention training during early 2018. The result may be that employers are taking stronger and more appropriate positions to both prevent sexual harassment and halt it when it occurs.

But a word of caution: Employers would be reckless to use these statistics as a reason to get lax in their sexual harassment trainings, policies, and procedures. While the media coverage of #MeToo may have faded, protecting employees from harassment is still an ongoing concern. Sexual harassment claims often present significant economic costs to the employer, which could include legal costs, emotional distress damages, and punitive damages. This is on top of the now very significant non-economic and reputational costs for employers which often include being distracting for employees, causing high public damage, and fostering an environment of distrust of leadership when not handled appropriately.

Employers should be conducting at least annual sexual harassment trainings for their workforce, as well as for new hires. Employers should also make sure their handbooks are up to date and lay out a clear and effective procedure for the reporting and handling of harassment claims. These policies should not live in a vacuum and should be re-visited from time to time and adjusted. Most importantly, employers cannot and must not retaliate against employees who raise concerns or file formal complaints.

Do not wait for an incident to take these steps. It is important to open a dialogue among all levels of employees, and set the expectations and values for the employer from the start. When employees feel protected and heard, the employer puts itself in a better position to effectively and appropriately handle harassment claims, and hopefully prevent them altogether.

For more information on the prevention and handling of harassment claims, please contact Matthew Mitchell or Amanda Thibodeau.