Gender discrimination in the workplace is an issue still experienced by people today.
While equal pay for women may be the most recognizable issue, it isn’t the only type of gender discrimination experienced by women. Men experience certain forms of gender discrimination as well.
A survey done by Cosmopolitan in 2015 showed 1-in-3 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Reported cases of sexual harassment can be anywhere from unwelcome sexual advancements to requests for sexual favors to offensive remarks based on gender.
Currently, the federal labor law, which protects employees from sexual harassment by employers and fellow employees, doesn’t protect the employees of small businesses with less than 15 employees in the state of Texas.
Karen Wyatt, a San Marcos resident, helped bring the loophole some small business owners have been using for years to the attention of local lawmakers.
After moving back to San Marcos, Wyatt took a job at a local, small home loan processing business. A former employee, the woman whose position she had filled, contacted her and warned her of what she would experience in the days to come.
Wyatt said she had ignored the warning; she was convinced the “sexual harassment, racial degradation, homophobic rants and psychological abuse” would be something she wouldn’t tolerate.
However, her initial beliefs came to be very wrong. Wyatt remained with the company for from 2006 to 2015 enduring harassment and verbal abuse from her employer. As the years progressed, she said the abuse had a huge impact on her confidence and personality.
She stopped wearing makeup. She stopped dressing for the job she wanted versus the job she had.
Finally, a friend, after seeing the evidence and transcripts of recorded conversations, convinced her to leave her position or “he and her husband would clean out her office for her.”
When Wyatt tried to file a sexual harassment lawsuit, attorneys revealed the loophole protecting her former employer from such lawsuits. He was even able to block her unemployment claim since she had left of “her own volition.”
Federal Labor Code does not allow the employee of any organization with fewer than 15 employees to file sexual harassment claims against an employer.
However, the law does allow states to lower the number of employees required for a claim to be filed. At present, Texas’s labor code upholds the federal requirements.
Wyatt said she approached Rep. Jason Isaac about the loophole; Sen. Zaffirini, on the other hand, showed interest and submitted an amendment to the State Affairs Committee for a hearing.
“They were the saviors I needed,” Wyatt said. “They believe in the fact that ALL employees deserve to be protected from sexual harassment no matter the company size.”
Currently, a hearing has not been set for SB 1140. However, people interested in showing their support can call the State Affairs Committee Chair, Senator Joan Huffman, at 512-463-0117 and ask for a hearing to be set.
“Small businesses are the backbone and foundation of not only Texas but of this country,” Wyatt said, “And to think that they are left out of such a fundamental protection is unbelievable.”
Once the bill passes in Texas, Wyatt said the bill will be going to Washington D.C. in the hopes of getting it passed on a federal level.
“I want something good to come from this,” Wyatt said. “I want people like him to be held accountable for their actions. I think all men and women should be protected from sexual harassment, no matter the size of the company.”
Her whole story can be read at www.sashnow.org.