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Sexual Harassment Is Not All Bad

Vivia Chen

November 14, 2011

To all the readers who have been complaining that The Careerist gets too uptight (click here and here) about gender discrimination, I'm ready to offer you a truce. On the sexual harassment front, at least, I'm now holding my fire.

Why? Well, it seems that I've been overlooking the role of the free market system, and how that creates an equilibrium of sorts between the harasser and harassee.

Fotolia_8215014_XSHere's what Vanderbilt University law and economics professor Joni Hersch writes in the American Economic Review:

Workers receive a wage premium for exposure to the risk of sexual harassment in much the same way that workers receive a wage premium for the risk of fatality or injury.

In other words, putting up with letches should entitle you to extra battle pay. "These compensating differentials arise because sexual harassment is so offensive," wrote Hersch in an e-mail to me. "The only other work-related risks that receive hazard pay are for risk of fatality or injury. If people did not universally despise sexual harassment, there would be no extra compensation." 

Using EEOC complaints, Hersch looked at the relationship between sexual harassment and compensation. Even when education and occupation are taken into account, women who work in jobs where there's an "average probability of sexual harassment" are paid 25 cents per hour more than women who don't have that hassle, finds Hersch.

Wow—imagine getting extra comp for smirks, propositions, and other offensive acts! That must really add up if your workplace is full of neanderthals.

All great stuff, but I'm a bit disturbed by this finding: Men in jobs with high risk of sexual harassment get twice as much as women in similar situations, making on average 50 cents an hour more. Even on this front, men get more than women! How sad is that?

"Because sexual harassment of women is so pervasive, there aren’t a whole lot of jobs where women can be assured they will not be at risk of being sexually harassed," explains Hersch. "So firms don’t have to pay as high a premium to attract women to sexually harassing workplaces as they do to attract men."

In any case, though, I doubt there's as much sexual harassment in the legal sector as there is in other sectors. (From 2000 to 2010, Hersch says there were 305 EEOC complaints in the legal sector out of "the 52,812 sexual harassment charges with industry code reported.") And given how careful Big Law is, I'd bet the opportunities for trading harassment for cash is even lower among the Am Law 200 firms.

But don't let that discourage you if you're looking for a pay bump. May I suggest trying your luck at a more off-the-beaten-track firm? Or maybe you can go to Pittsburgh, which seems to be a bit retro on these matters (click here and here).

Better yet, how about applying for an in-house job at the the National Restaurant Association?

Hat tips: The Washington Post and ABA Blog.


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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].



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Funny how its always good-looking women that get the office help and similar jobs that pay inexplicably high money. Funny how they always seem to find these jobs by meeting a guy in a bar or someplace similar, but guys never find jobs in those places.

This needed a study?

I remember helping a seasoned in-house lawyer at a prestigious but boom-boom securities shop look for new work. Her suit for sexual harassment had procured a financial settlement such that she did not need to work for over a year. There was also, surprise, a non-disclosure agreement. She did not think it was worth it.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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