WELCOME TO RE-SEGREGATION: Sexual Harassment And The Law Of Unintended Consequences


Howard Segermark Vice president, American Business Defense Council
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It is official. Sexual harassment is bad. So says Hollywood gliterati Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Cate Blanchet and 300 other starlets. Their new, well-financed group, “Time’s Up” was announced in the New York Times for its mission is to fight sexual harassment throughout America.

But, it is becoming clear that the ancillary effects of this popular campaign will harm the fight for women’s equality in the workplace.

Every human resources director of every major corporation is about to, or has already, instituted a compulsory series of anti-sexual harassment seminars for its executives as well other employees, with the emphasis on the male employees. Men’s predations are, after all, what we hear about.

The federal government is following suit. Already, every member of the House of Representative and every senator has had to endure an anti-sexual harassment sensitivity session, as have their staffs.

Think for a moment about unisex bathrooms. Clearly, those are places for potential sexual harassment. Better restore “Boy’s Room” and “Girl’s Room” facilities.

So what are the reactions in the executive suites? Lawyers are instructing executives to take steps now. Some are adopting the “Pence Rule” after Vice President Mike Pence’s longstanding custom of never meeting with a female staffer or lobbyist alone or with the door closed.

Logically, this also means that the male CEO or executive of a company must no longer meet in private with a trusted female aide (though he can with a male aide). Indeed, private meetings throughout a corporate structure between one man and one woman can no longer be tolerated.

In corporate America, on the advice of lawyers who have analyzed the economic costs (see value of the Harvey Weinstein brand) and the costs of the settlements of sexual harassment accusations, the reaction will be to do everything to minimize the risk of sexual harassment accusations.

The results of this is clear: a new segregation of the sexes. When a male or female executive or staff can no longer meet privately with associates of the opposite sex, it impedes the operations of business. When an executive cannot easily learn about a person of the opposite gender, the person of the opposite gender is less likely to get a promotion or good assignment. When it comes to picking persons to be named for jobs; to name people to move up the ladder, those people who were not allowed to meet with leaders of the opposite gender lose.

Of course, the new anti-sexual harassment environment will have to conform with laws prohibiting discrimination against persons on the basis of their gender. But it will likely take litigation to determine when a corporation’s fully rational action to stop sexual harassment in the workplace and its obligations to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex conflict.

The costs will come sooner rather than later. The law firm you have relied on for years has just asked for a 60 percent increase in its retainer. One of the unintended consequences of anti-harassment effort, but not too surprising.

Howard Segermark is a past Hill staffer, current tax lobbyist, member of the boards of the National Civic Art Society and the American Motorcyclists Association Political Action Committee and co-founder of the Churchill Society Cigar Exchange Dinner of Washington.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.