Ask lawyers who handle sexual harassment claims and they will say they are not surprised by the number of sexual harassment cases we're hearing about.
“It is much more prevalent than has widely been known,” said Portland lawyer Dana Sullivan.
She specializes in employment law, which includes sexual harassment. She said many cases are settled which keeps them out of court and secret.
“One of the things that companies bargain for when they settle these claims traditionally is to have the woman barred from speaking to anyone about her experience or the fact that she was paid a settlement,” Sullivan said. She added the agreement even keeps co-workers from knowing what happened. So, if it happens again, the woman could think she was the only one who found the behavior harassment.
But now, the women who accused Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and others are not signing settlements that keep them quiet, instead they're speaking out.
Which has a lot of companies in Portland and elsewhere nervous, according to Judy Clark, founder of HR Answers.
“It surfaced a lot of inquiries,” Clark said.
HR Answers serves as the human resources consultant for more than 5,500 companies in the Northwest. Clark said we’re living through a unique moment.
“It’s an awakening,” she said.
Clark said harassment falls under two areas. One is the obvious, "have sex with me if you want a promotion or to keep your job". She said that form is not so common. But she said the other is very common. It’s called "hostile work environment".
Clark offered an example of the behavior.
“Someone's taking liberties with touching people physically or making lewd references or telling dirty jokes or those kinds of things and somebody has said stop. That's really uncomfortable. I don’t think it belongs in a professional environment. And the person doesn’t stop because really they don't think they have to,” she said.
But Clark thinks that attitude is changing because fewer companies will protect harassers.
Lawyer Dana Sullivan agrees and has a warning for those who do not want to change with the times.
“You disrespect your coworkers, especially your female coworkers at your peril,” she said.