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Laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace were designed to protect women, but more and more men are claiming to be victims of harassment � usually by other men. In 2000, 15.4 percent of the sexual harassment complaints filed with New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights (DCR) were filed by men. By comparison, such complaints made up 10 percent of the DCR’s docket in 1994. In 1999, 16.3 percent of sex harassment complaints were made by men, almost twice the 8.5 percent rate of the year before. So far this year, men have filed 13.3 percent of the sex harassment complaints logged by the division. Nationally, statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show there’s also been a steady increase in the percentage of sexual harassment claims filed by men. Last year, men accounted for 13.6 percent of sex bias charges filed with the EEOC nationwide, compared with 9.1 percent in 1992. The EEOC statistics don’t include a breakdown of the claims filed with New Jersey’s EEOC office. But because of a work-sharing agreement between the EEOC and the DCR, most cases filed with the DCR are forwarded to the EEOC and vice versa, so the DCR’s numbers are a reliable indicator of filings in the state. Of course, many claims of sexual harassment never go to the DCR or the EEOC. Claimants often choose to go directly to court. But employment lawyers say they’re also starting to see a steady stream of harassment claims by men, compared with almost none in the past. “I do seem to be getting a lot more than I used to,” says Alan Schorr, a Marlton, N.J., sole practitioner who represents workers in labor matters and discrimination cases. Schorr got a big payout in one such case in December 1999. The state agreed to pay $425,000 to his client, Thomas Ferri, a corrections officer who claimed that he was taunted and belittled by his female supervisor. That case came seven months after a settlement in Lockley v. State of New Jersey, A-1783-99, where another male corrections officer claimed he was sexually harassed by a female boss. The officer, represented by Linda Wong of Edison, N.J.’s Wong Fleming, won $3.75 million, though the state has appealed. But female-on-male harassment, or so-called reverse discrimination, cases are still relatively rare, say practitioners, and don’t account for the increase in harassment claims by men. Rather, more men are claiming to be victims of harassment by men. Like claims by women, male complaints of harassment by other men typically allege a hostile working environment — that the worker’s boss or co-workers subjected him to sexual remarks or taunting, or that he was repeatedly accused of being effeminate or a homosexual. Such claims have been held to violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court first upheld so-called same-sex harassment suits in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75 (1998). In New Jersey, such a claim was first recognized in Zalewski v. Overlook Hospital, 300 N.J. Super. 202 (Law Div. 1996). There, the plaintiff alleged that his male co-workers repeatedly taunted him, accusing him of being a virgin and effeminate. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Oncale to reinstate a dismissed sexual harassment claim by a retarded man who alleged that his co-workers repeatedly harassed him by making vulgar comments, stuffing him in a garbage can, putting him in headlocks and nearly raping him in a locker room. Pirolli v. World Flavors Inc. Unlike the federal law and most state laws, however, the LAD also prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation. It thus protects workers from harassment because they are gay or perceived as being gay. That could be one reason why the percentage of male harassment charges filed with the DCR is higher than the nationwide average. Michael Reimer, of South Orange, N.J.’s Reimer & Niedweske, who represents plaintiffs and management, recalls a recent case in which a worker said his male co-workers repeatedly accused him of being gay. In another case, says Reimer, the plaintiff complained about how his supervisor, who was gay, pretended to flirt with him. Reimer declines to discuss the outcome of those cases, saying they were confidential. In the past, the conduct now being complained of by men would have been dismissed as harmless “locker-room” antics, say lawyers. And the man would have been expected to shrug off the banter or, at worst, physically confront his co-workers to stop the conduct. “These claims would have been resolved in the parking lot” years ago, says Bruce McMoran, who heads a firm in Iselin and mostly represents plaintiffs. He just had a case where a Teamsters Union worker complained of sexual remarks and taunting by other Teamsters — an example, McMoran says, of how far things have gone. Now, men are more aware of their right to a harassment-free workplace, says Jennifer Pitre, assistant director of the DCR’s Bureau of Enforcement and Citizens’ Rights. “As men become more and more educated about their rights regarding sexual harassment, you will see an increase in cases,” she says. And a man’s claim of sexual harassment may result in a suit or administrative charge more often that a woman’s claim, say lawyers, because companies may be slower to recognize and remedy a problem involving a male victim. “Companies are more sensitive to female complaints,” says Arthur Raynes, a partner with Morristown, N.J.’s Wiley, Malehorn and Sirota, who represents plaintiffs and management. “When a male complains, in a lot of companies it’s taken less seriously.” Management attorney Frank Vernoia, of Livingston, N.J.’s Genova, Burns & Vernoia, says that in assessing male complaints, companies have to be careful not to engage in the gender stereotyping the law was meant to prevent. For example, there’s a tendency to think that men, more than women, should just shrug off or walk away from harassing conduct, says Vernoia. Men also may have more difficulty showing that harassing conduct was directed at them because of their gender. Conduct that is boorish, vulgar or simply cruel is not actionable unless there’s a sexual component directed at one gender. With men, courts and juries are more willing to believe lewd conduct was an accepted part of male bonding in the workplace, say lawyers. And then there’s what Schorr refers to as the “equal opportunity harasser,” a supervisor or co-worker who treats both sexes with vulgarity or cruelty. That type of harassment is not actionable unless the plaintiff can prove it impacted one gender more than the other.

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