Online Exclusive: Training Tips for Preventing Male-on-Male Sexual Harassment
After former U.S. Rep. Eric Massa resigned his seat in Congress in March amid a House ethics panel investigation into allegations he sexually harassed male staff members, he eventually admitted groping a staffer but denied his intent was sexual. Massa described horseplay at his 50th birthday party in a Fox News interview, saying, "Not only did I grope [the staffer], I tickled him until he couldn't breathe."
"If two men are horsing around, is one harassing the other because of his sex? Different courts come down in different ways on that point," Chapman says.
In general, the law recognizes two forms of sexual harassment, whether the victim is a man or a woman, according to Jeanine Gozdecki, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg. The first involves situations where a person in power offers to give someone a job, a raise or a promotion in return for sex. The second is when the harasser creates a hostile work environment through severe or pervasive incidents that unreasonably interfere with the person's working conditions.
In settling such cases, putting a value on the case can be difficult because juries often aren't sympathetic to male plaintiffs, according to Chapman, who has conducted focus groups to assess sentiments of potential jurors toward male-on-male harassment claims.
"In male-on-female sexual harassment, you usually can predict how a jury will react," he says. "In the male-on-male setting, it's more likely the jury's reaction may be, 'Why didn't the victim hit the guy upside the head and tell him to stop?' That sort of mentality makes it more difficult to put a value on those types of claims."