Last week the San Jose State University settled a sexual harassment case with a decision of paying $1.6 million to thirteen plaintiffs. This is one of the largest settlements ever in terms of monetary compensation. Naturally, this settlement is a result of a court case that spanned three states and involved numerous months of litigation. The process before this legal process unfolded was a bit lengthy, but fortunately, the results were quite favorable. There are many reasons why this particular settlement was a positive one.
First, the legal process was extremely complicated and lengthy. In addition to having a lawyer who was involved in the case from start to finish, the students had to have all their information presented in court. Discovery, which consists of asking questions to obtain evidence, took several months. Finally, once all of the discovery was completed, the plaintiffs had to file their lawsuit. All of this involved an enormous amount of time and money.
Another advantage to pursuing such a case was the fact that this was the first major court case on the rise involving sexual harassment. San Diego State was not the first school or institution to settle such a case, but the results were widely publicized and received widespread media attention. This served as a model for other institutions. The settlement was also a message to other victims that their rights could be pursued in court and found by a jury.
Unfortunately, many institutions of higher learning did not receive this good press. In fact, a quick search of online litigation information shows that only two of the dozen or so universities that settled sexual harassment cases in 2021 received any coverage in the national media. As a result, the impact on the legal and educational systems was minimal. However, the spotlight is now focusing on other educational institutions. As lawsuits like the one filed against San Diego State continue to increase, other schools are looking into how they can protect students from workplace sexual harassment. If the legal case provided any lesson at all, it’s that schools cannot be expected to handle harassment cases without adequate training and support from legal and educational professionals.
Unfortunately, San Diego State is not the only place that has settled a recent case of sexual harassment. Last year, the University of San Francisco paid out over half a million dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against the school. The settlement, which was reached in January, involved a former employee who was a former student of the school. San Francisco is not alone in considering how to handle sexual harassment suits; other schools that settled cases in January include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which settled with a former employee for total compensation of almost $1 million.
These settlements are a stark reminder of how important it is for employers to understand that their legal obligation to their employees goes beyond simply having a hiring policy. Far too often, employers simply look at each person as an individual with potential, without considering the potential actions that may be taken against that individual based on previous acts or reactions by that individual. In a nutshell, these employees are considered disposable. They are merely an investment. If that investment takes a turn for the worse and an employee is subjected to hostile and harassing conduct, the consequences can be devastating.
The unfortunate reality of the situation is that victims do not often feel supported by their harassers. Most of the time, victims remain silent, feeling as though they have no recourse against those whom they have accused of sexual harassment. Sometimes, the perpetrator will go to great lengths to not be caught. In the case of San Diego State, this may have been the case. In light of recent news reports detailing the lawsuit filed against former State Senator Hollygey Brown (D-4th District) by one of her former employees, the former governor has had to step into the public eye and assure citizens that he has every confidence in the process that is being conducted to root out public officials who may be involved in sexual harassment.
Due to the sensitivity of the matter, the settlement between the State of San Diego and one of its students was settled quickly and amicably. The terms of the settlement are expected to be reviewed by a judge sometime in the near future. No one is yet sure what form of compensation will be paid in the end, but considering the amount of shock and grief that has been caused by the revelation, many people are hopeful that the settlement reached was the fairest and just.