Women in the Workplace: Sexual harassment

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The Me Too and Time's Up movements have increased the focus on sexual harassment in the workplace, but many women say they are still afraid to come forward.

Sherry Grimes-Jenkins, of Mahopac, is filing lawsuits against her former employer, Con Edison. She alleges she was sexually harassed, humiliated and retaliated against. She also says she lost the opportunity for promotions over the course of her 27-year career.

She says her reports of sexual harassment incidents to the company were minimized, never handled or could come back unknown or unfounded.

Kevin Berry, the director of the New York District of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says about 8 percent of all complaints filed with the EEOC are for sexual harassment.  He believes it's hugely underreported because many are afraid to speak up.

"Only 6 to 13 percent of those who have been sexually harassed in the workplace will file a complaint," he says.

Last year, there were 1,142 claims of sexual harassment in workplaces across the state filed with the EEOC.  A total of 19 of those claims were filed in Westchester, 15 in Orange, 3 in Rockland and 1 in Putnam County.

In the wake of the Me Too movement, Berry says awareness on the issue is at an all-time high.

"We have seen a doubling of hits on the website on the sexual harassment site itself," he says.

Berry advises those considering filing a complaint to come prepared.

"See if there are other individuals that have also been harassed. Get the names of witnesses. The more information you can supply us the better chance we have of helping you," he says.

Reporting sexual harassment can lead to the EEOC requiring a company to implement "respectful workplace training" or result in financial damages.

In 2015, the EEOC ordered Con Ed to pay $3.8 million to resolve sex discrimination and harassment charges after seven women employees came forward.

Grimes-Jenkins says she was interviewed for that case but decided to take action on her own, in part because she wanted to share her own story, stand up and speak out.

News 12 reached out to Con Edison for a response. It said it does not condone harassment in any form in the workplace and that it will respond to the lawsuits in court.

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