Sexual Harassment Claims by Men Growing but Not Equal

PHOTO Twin brothers Jed and Wyatt Lorenzen

After Jed Lorenzen won his sexual harassment lawsuit, he bought himself a new suit.

"It's my power suit to remind me that's what you get when you stand up for yourself," the 33-year-old Los Angeles, Calif. man said.

When it comes to alleged sexual harassment, more men are standing up for themselves these days. Of the nearly 12,700 sexual harassment complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in the 2009 fiscal year, 16 percent -- some 2,030 -- came from men. That's up from 9.9 percent, or roughly 1,430, a decade-and-half earlier. The number of complaints from men increased even as the number of overall cases have declined.

"It's not really clear whether more men are being subjected to harassment or more men are willing to come forward," said Ernest Haffner, a senior attorney adviser at the EEOC. "There are more decisions in the courts dealing with sexual harassment by men -- it could be that just more men are aware of their rights as they speak to attorneys."

But just because more men are filing claims, it doesn't mean male victims have achieved parity with their female counterparts -- at least not in the public eye, some experts say.

Attorney Keith Fink, who represented Lorenzen and his twin brother Wyatt in a complaint the two filed against a restaurant, says men still face a stigma in speaking out about sexual harassment. That's true for both male and female-instigated harassment, he said.

"People either are homophobic or they think men can weather the storm of verbal barrage better than a female, or they're just not as empathetic as a female (victim)," he said.

In the Lorenzens' case, a jury awarded the brothers $1,000 each in damages, a figure Fink suspects would have been much higher had his clients been women.

Jed Lorenzen agrees.

"I thought the monetary amount was quite ridiculous, but I think it was because we weren't women up there on the stand, breaking down and crying and looking, I guess, 'more weak.'"

"I don' t consider women weak," he added, "(but) I think because we are men, our case wasn't taken as seriously."

Fink said that the potential for lower awards -- and hence, lower attorney's fees -- is one reason why some attorneys may decline to pursue sexual harassment complaints.

Not all claims are resolved with small awards, however. Some male sexual harassment cases have resulted in payments of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against the restaurant chain, The Cheesecake Factory. A settlement reached between the EEOC and the chain last November stipulated that The Cheesecake Factory pay $345,000 to six male employees who claimed they had been subject to "sexually abusive behavior" such as "simulated rape" at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Chandler, Ariz., according to an EEOC statement and court documents.

In court documents filed in response to the lawsuit, The Cheesecake Factory argued that the employees had not been "subjected to unlawful sexual harassment." After the settlement was announced, the chain released a statement to the press saying that it had agreed to the settlement to prevent continued litigation and continued to deny wrongdoing.

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