Disclosure (1994) is a movie about a computer scientist Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) who is sexually harrased by his new boss Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore). Meredith offers him a secure career and a corporate fast track if he satisfies her secual fantasies and has sex with her. Sanders is happily married with two kids and rejects Meredith’s advances. The next day he learns that Meredith has complained to the management that he tried to rape her. He decides to press charges related to sexual harrasment against Meredith. Management wants him to settle the case and move to another division, so the proposed merger of the company with a bigger company can go off peacefully. Sanders fights back and pursues the case to get Meredith punished for her behavior.
The movie about sexual harrasment of a man by a woman boss challenges the audience to think. As one of Sanders’ colleagues tells him “Who has ever heard of a women sexually harrasing a man!” (my paraphrasing). Sexual harrasment was once considered a problem that involved a male boss asking his female subordinate for sexual favors. However, as an increasing number of women move up in the corporate hierarchy the nature of sexual harrasment is changing. If sexual harrasment is about power and control as many believe, anybody (regardless of sex) may perpetuate it and victimize another person. However, as the movie demonstrates so well, social beliefs about a ‘man-on-woman’ model of sexual harrasment are so pervasive that a man who complains about being sexually harrased by a female boss is likely to have a difficult time proving his innocence and the other person’s guilt!
The movie is recommended for human resource management, organizational behavior, and business law classes. It is entertaining and thought-provoking!
The tagline for North Country (2005) is “All she wanted to do was to make a living, Instead she made history”. The history in this case was the first major successful class-action sexual harassment case in the United States – Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. The movie is a fictionalized account of the experiences Jenson had working at the company mines and her legal battle with the company that tolerated and implicitly encouraged the sexual abuse against Jenson and other female employees. In the movie Josie Ames (the fictionalized Lois Jensen) starts working at a mine, the only employment provider in the small Minnesota town where she grew up. However, mining has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, and Josie Ames finds herself fighting against commonly-held ideas her male co-workers and other people in the town had about the role of women in the mines. Josie goes from a single mother trying to make ends meet to becoming a social pariah in the community to winning a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the company. How times change!
Perhaps, the most interesting message the movie had for a business audience was that “a stitch in time saves nine”. There were many opportunities when the top management could have stepped in and taken some action to stop the abuse, but for some reason did not. One law firm gives a five-step plan for management when they find themselves in a similar situation:
Implement an effective anti-harassment policy.
On receiving a harassment claim, have impartial employees investigate it.
When warranted, take appropriate and prompt corrective action.
Don’t retaliate against the complaining employee.
When confronted with egregious and credible evidence, consider every opportunity for early (and inexpensive) resolution.
I am curious why the top management of Eveleth did not do anything about it. None of the websites present I searched presented the company’s perspective on the whole case.
Anyway, those interested in reading the real story that inspired the movie, click here.