Professor addresses discrimination, sexual harassment in book


Patrick Li

California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu speaks with student and Prof. Suja Thomas at the Illini Union on Apr. 18, 2017.

By Niani Scott, Staff Writer

Sexual harassment is a hot topic right now, said University professor Suja Thomas, law professor and researcher of employee discrimination for more than 15 years.

Thomas, along with Sandra Sperino, Associate Dean of Faculty and law professor at the University of Cincinnati, co-wrote a book titled Unequal: How America’s Courts Undermine Discrimination Law.

Thomas talked about the aspects of the book that relate to sexual harassment on Houston Public Radio.

“We wrote this book where we point out sexual harassment hasn’t been favored very well in the courts,” Thomas said. “I think that there’s kind of an assumption that if you actually bring a case to court, that’s good. The jury will hear it and the jury will decide. Well that’s not really what happens.”

Judges decide there is not enough evidence to support sexual harassment cases, so they kick it out and the jury of one’s peers doesn’t get to decide, Thomas said.

“The recent sexual assault and harassment allegations show that we have much more work to do to make workplaces safe and productive,” Sperino said in an email. “I hope this is a chance to think about whether the laws that prohibit sexual harassment at work are effective and what we can do to make them better.”

Thomas also discussed current sexual assault claims in the media.

“If the mechanism that’s set forth in the law isn’t really respected, then it’s going to be the case that I think employers aren’t going to take it as seriously,” Thomas said. “I think that if we took (sexual harassment) more seriously in the courts, employers would take it more seriously.”

Thomas suggested employers implement zero tolerance policies.

“Workplaces are tolerating terrible sexual harassment. We obviously see it in Hollywood examples,” Thomas said. “Story after story of horrible things happening to actresses and you would never think that any of this would be possible, but employers are permitting it to happen.”

Sarah Colomé, director of Women’s Resources Center, said women are becoming more comfortable with coming forward because there is power in numbers.

“I think that we’re seeing that people feel more comfortable speaking their truth, which for decades has not been the case, and also importantly to recognize that there are still some people who can’t safely speak their truth,” Colomé said.

Colomé also discussed the current #MeToo movement happening on social media and across the country.

“People are actively engaging with being a part of the solution and people are requiring that their employer (and) their partners create these respectful environments,” Colomé said. “People are not just saying ‘this is a 1 in 5 statistic that I’ve been hearing my entire life, but (instead) I’m seeing a face that I can identify with and recognize.’”

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