“You know… You’re still my boss… Which means… This is sexual harassment…
Oh really? I guess I’ll have to fire you then.”
― Alexandra V.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, states across the nation have recognized a need to revisit laws protecting people, mostly women, from sexual harassment. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR), part of the Attorney General’s Office, took up this charge in New Jersey. Along with the nonprofit New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJ CASA), DCR held three public hearings throughout the state in September 2019 on the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace, housing and places of public accommodation. Following the hearings, DCR, with the help of NJCASA and the Rutgers Law School International Human Rights Clinic, compiled a report containing pertinent information gathered at the hearings, as well as legislative recommendations.
Experts and advocates were invited to testify at the hearings, which took place in Asbury Park on September 11, in Hackensack on September 24 and in Atlantic City on September 25. Members of the public were also invited to speak, with the option of anonymity, at all of the hearings. Those who were unable to attend any of the hearings in person were encouraged to submit written testimony to DCR. Over 40 experts, advocates and survivors provided written or oral testimony on the topic of sexual harassment in New Jersey and nationwide.
The testimony covered a broad range of topics within the greater discussion of understanding and addressing sexual harassment. Experts from a wide array of industries spoke on how sexual harassment manifests in the workplace, housing and places of public accommodation. Many also offered recommendations on how New Jersey could combat sexual harassment through legislation, employer training, K-12 education and public outreach.
Perhaps even more impactful was the testimony of individual survivors of sexual harassment. The survivors were mainly women and many were members of vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers. One of the key findings from the hearings was that people with intersecting vulnerabilities (such as women who are also domestic workers, or domestic workers who are also immigrants) are far more likely to experience sexual harassment than other New Jerseyians. A major recommendation included in the report is to amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to include domestic workers, who are currently not protected under the law.
The findings from the hearings and written testimony were compiled into a report, “Preventing and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in New Jersey”, published by DCR in February of 2020. At the time of publishing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced his support for legislation based on the findings of the DCR report. Advocates across the State have expressed optimism at the steps New Jersey is taking to eliminate sexual harassment in the State. Governor Murphy has promised to sign legislation including the DCR recommendations to combat sexual harassment in New Jersey. A copy of this report is available on request.
Coronavirus or not, the landscape on employment discrimination has changed dramatically. When the emergency ends and people go back to work, both businesses and their employees would be well-advised to educate themselves on the “new” rights and obligations.
Rachael Newcomb is in her 2nd year at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey. We welcome her as a new contributor.