Employers in Florida and around the country are expected to take steps to address discrimination or harassment in the workplace based on race, disability, gender, religion, age or national origin, and they generally rely on human resources departments to investigate claims of mistreatment and enforce company policies. However, several of the civil rights activists and attorneys who spoke at the Women in the World Summit, which was held in New York in early April, said that corporate HR departments are often a part of the problem.
Many federal laws dealing with workplace discrimination and harassment such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and employers hoping to avoid sanctions are encouraged to put clear discrimination policies into place and investigate complaints thoroughly. However, many such policies are not properly enforced or allow exceptions to be made for senior executives or top performers according to labor advocates.
These advocates say that failing to adequately investigate claims of harassment leveled against highly visible employees can nurture hostile workplace environments and lead workers to believe that filing a complaint is a waste of time and effort. The sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson in 2016 led to Roger Ailes stepping down as CEO of Fox News, but the litigation also prompted several other female Fox employees who thought that their voices would never be heard to come forward.
Attorneys with experience in this area may have encountered victims of sexual harassment or discrimination who were reluctant to file complaints because they feared retaliation or believed that little would be achieved. Attorneys could seek to reassure workers who feel this way by explaining the severe sanctions that companies could face for firing, demoting or otherwise punishing workers who have complained about violations of federal or state discrimination laws.