By: Trisha Mannie
After the launch of #MeToo and revelations of many allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein became public, the media’s coverage of how common sexual harassment is in the workplace has become more prevalent. Famous women are sharing their experiences and using their status to encourage other women to do the same, resulting in a drastic rise in awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. The #MeToo and We Said Enough movements are only a couple of examples of how society is taking a stand to deter sexual harassment in the workplace. Now, more than ever, there is mounting pressure to put a halt to the somewhat normalized behaviors of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace that have hindered the success of many women’s careers for years.
SB 224 represents California’s goal to end sexual harassment in the workplace. SB 224 acts to emphasize that those in powerful positions are liable for their actions by adding investors, producers, directors, lobbyists, and elected officials into legislation as examples of professional relationships where sexual harassment should not occur. This recognition of a broader scope of potentially liable professionals extends to include professional relationships that do not yet exist, but are offered. Additionally, SB 224 removes the requirement that the victim must prove the relationship was not able to be easily terminated before the harasser can be held liable for his or her actions. Lastly, SB 224 revises two Governmental Codes allowing the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) to investigate cases of sexual harassment.
Through these changes, there is indication of a greater awareness for sexual harassment and a clear declaration that victims of these situations are supported by the law. It promotes the eradication of professional behaviors of sexual harassment dictated by money, status, and power that have manipulated the vulnerable as they fear for their jobs. It removes blame from the victim by acknowledging that it is not up to the victim to terminate the relationship, but that the sexually harassing behavior should not have occurred in the first place. SB 224 makes it clear that victims are not alone as the DFEH plays a role, alongside the individual, in seeking justice. The enactment of SB 224 unambiguously promulgates that those within professional relationships are entitled to respect, while reinforcing that those who violate this right should be held liable.
With its progressive ideals and underlying aim of achieving equality, SB 224 has faced no opposition. It passed in both the Senate and the Assembly and on September 30th, SB 224 was approved by Governor Brown. SB 224 is one step towards achieving the bigger picture of ending sexual harassment across multiple industries.
To learn more about SB 224, listen to my interview on “In Session,” a podcast from the University of the Pacific Law Review.
Trisha Mannie is a staff writer for the University of the Pacific Law Review and law student student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.