SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — While the allegations against Governor Cuomo have come to the surface, a Syracuse University professor of law is reminding everyone that sexual harassment is still something many people experience.
The recent accusations have sparked important conversation about this kind of behavior.
“When we think about how substantial, how deep that runs for women in the American workplace, it is a very frequent experience. So, when I say it’s a new legal concept, it is in a way. It is not a new experience for women,” explained Kelly Curtis, teaching professor at Syracuse College of Law.
According to a Pew Research Center report, six in 10 women and three in 10 men report experiencing sexual harassment in their life.
69% of those women say at least one of those incidents took place at work.
Looking at the legal side, there are two forms of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo, which is less common than the other form called “hostile work environment sexual harassment.”
“It may be anything from come-ons or request for sexual activity to lude comments to off-colored jokes, to things that denigrate or derogatory towards women or other classes of people,” said Curtis.
Dealing with sexual harassment when it comes to a legality level in New York state is, as Curtis describes, “very interesting.”
Federally, there is still an existing requirement when it comes to hostile work environment claims that the defendant must prove the harassment was severe or pervasive.
“A lot of the alleged stuff with respect to Governor Cuomo may very well not meet that standard,” Curtis said.
Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, those severe and pervasive requirements from the state’s ‘Human Rights Law’ regarding sexual harassment have been eliminated.
The elimination was first brought to the table at a legislative session and enacted in 2019. The amendments then went into effect in 2020.
When asked about sexual harassment victims coming forward, Curtis said the problem will never be solved unless it’s brought to light.
So much sexual harassment is driven by narratives and cultural myths we tell ourselves about men, about women, about workers, and we need to have a more robust discussion about those myths, those narratives, those stories we tell ourselves, and the only way to do that is if people first start with their story, their narrative.Kelly Curtis, Teaching Professor, Syracuse College of Law
Sexual harassment was not created as a legal concept until 1974. The term was coined in Central New York after a group of women at Cornell University had experiences of their own.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment was not recognized as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII by the United States Supreme Court until 1986.