Sexual Harassment Claims by Men Growing but Not Equal

Twin Brothers Claim Unwanted Touching

In their claim, the Lorenzen brothers alleged that, in 2006, the two male owners of Los-Angeles-based Vermont Restaurant touched them in inappropriate ways, including one instance in which one of the owners inserted his finger into Wyatt Lorenzen's buttocks. The brothers, who worked as waiters at the restaurant, also accused the owners of making sexual comments, including one owner's claims that he masturbated to photographs of the brothers.

The restaurant owners, Michael Gelzhiser and Manuel Nesta, have maintained that the brothers' allegations were false. In court documents, the owners -- who have since sold the restaurant -- argued that the brothers themselves engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior toward co-workers and customers. (Lorenzen denies the allegation.)

Gelzhiiser and Nesta's attorney, Jonathon Kaplan, said that though the jury awarded the brothers $1,000 each in general damages, the jury denied to award punitive damages -- an important point, he said.

"Punitive or exemplary damages are awarded in order to make an example of an egregiously acting defendant or to punish a defendant," he said. The jury did not find "the requisite behavior or outrageous conduct by defendants in order to impose" such awards.

With respect to male-against-male sexual harassment or same-gender harassment in particular, Los Angeles-based career strategist Cynthia Shapiro said victims often find frustration in trying to appeal for help within their own companies. Companies may feel uncomfortable pursuing complaints against gay or lesbian managers because they fear being labeled homophobic.

"The gay population is very well protected right now," she said. "Companies are sometimes really caught in the middle … The protected class can rise up very strongly and they have the law on their side and I think companies are too scared" to take action against them.

Explaining the Increase

Experts have several theories as to why more men are filing complaints. One is that more men felt comfortable filing complaints against fellow male co-workers after the landmark 1998 U.S. Supreme Court case, "Oncale v. Sundowner," in which an oil rig worker levied charges of sexual harassment against male co-workers and a supervisor. The court ruled unanimously that federal civil rights laws that ban sex discrimination also apply to same-gender sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment by women against men, meanwhile, took on a cultural resonance in the 1990s after the release of the 1994 film "Disclosure," starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. In the film, Moore starred as Douglas' sexually aggressive boss.

"I think that's what really brought awareness to the forefront -- that's when training started to include awareness on both sides," Shapiro said.

The increase may also stem from a recession that's seen many more men lose their jobs than women. Fink said that sexual harassment claims often begin as wage and hour claims -- complaints over unpaid overtime, for instance -- by fired employees.

Questions about sexual harassment will arise as lawyers seek to discern whether there are other claims to be filed against their clients' former employers.

"Lawyers will try to twist your arm, see if there's any other claims because there's a finite amount of money involved in wage and hour claims," Fink said.

Discrimination claims can net more money, especially when businesses have employment practice liability insurance, which covers companies for discrimination lawsuits, he said. Such insurance is less common, Fink said, for wage and hour claims.

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