An analysis by the Center for American Progress found that sexual harassment complaints by retail workers amount to 13.44 percent of the total of annual complaints. This means that retail is the second riskiest industry for this kind of misconduct, closely following the food industry.
From produce markets to shopping malls, retail stores are ripe with gender inequality. Women occupy only 18 percent of higher management positions, but 60 percent of medium level supervisors are female.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in the industry is a meager $27,000. With women and minority workers in lower, underpaid positions, the potential for harassment by predominantly white, predominantly male managers is considerable.
The problem recently made headlines when Barnes & Noble fired its CEO after he was accused by subordinates of workplace sexual harassment.
The Barnes & Noble case is an eloquent example of everything that is wrong with the industry. According to a complaint filed by his former assistant, CEO Demos Parneros referred to a hotel as the type of place where she “would put out,” in the context of a ‘friendly’ chat about vacation spots. While Parneros alleged he had only said the hotel was romantic, the company ultimately believed his accuser.
Manufacturing is another high-risk industry for sexual harassment. Manufacturing workers file nearly 12 percent of sexual harassment claims every year. The industry is no stranger to large settlements. Last year, Ford had to pay $10 million to resolve allegations of catcalling, sexually-charged texts and comments, and proposals of promotions as retribution for sexual favors at the company’s Chicago plants. The class-action lawsuit filed by several Ford employees shed light on the inadmissible conditions in the industry, where supervisors routinely ignore complaints, and such shocking behaviors are largely tolerated.
As part of the settlement that resolved that case, Ford agreed to implement personnel training sessions and file reports of harassment allegations to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In addition, the CEO issued an apology letter to all of the automaker’s employees.
High-profile lawsuits in these high-risk industries are instrumental in sending a clear message to wrongdoers that many behaviors that are deeply ingrained in certain company cultures will now have consequences, and that it is no longer acceptable to sexually harass any employee in any industry, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or position.
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