The confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been a focus of the media in recent days. A comment made by Kavanaugh, however, highlights how claims of sexual harassment are being handled within the federal court system.
As you may have heard, Kavanaugh was asked about sexual harassment allegations that had been made against now-retired Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit, for whom Kavanaugh once clerked. Judge Kozinski came under fire when several reports of sexual harassment were reported by the Washington Post. He quickly apologized and announced his retirement, but the impact of the sexual harassment allegations caused the federal judiciary to implement substantial reforms to its reporting code of conduct.
A report filed by several federal judges and judiciary officials reported that, although there were instances of reported sexual harassment, it was not “pervasive.” Regardless, even one incident occurring is one incident too many, and employers should seek to implement effective measures that seek to educate employees regarding appropriate behavior, deter inappropriate behavior, and create procedures that allow for clear and efficient means of reporting harassment claims. The federal judiciary identified these areas as those in need of improvement, and steps have been taken to address the allegations of sexual harassment. All employers, however, must see to it that their employees are able to work in a safe and effective environment, both to limit liability and also to increase productivity. Regardless of the field in which one is employed, sexual harassment can occur and present substantial liability for employers if sufficient steps are not taken. Even our federal court system, which decides sexual harassment cases, has recognized the importance of ensuring that its employees are free from sexual harassment when they come to work.