Lessons in David Letterman Scandal

Lessons in David Letterman Scandal -...

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Are There Lessons About Sexual Harassment in the David Letterman Scandal? By JOANNA L. GROSSMAN Tuesday, October 20, 2009 David Letterman rocked the late-night television scene on October 1, with a long and winding on-air confession about a series of intra-office affairs. He revealed little in the way of detail, except to acknowledge that he has "had sex with women who work for me on this show," behavior he described as "creepy." He followed up a few nights later with an apology to his wife, whom he admitted to having "hurt terribly." The confession was prompted by the indictment and arrest of Robert Joel Halderman, an Emmy- winning CBS producer, for allegedly blackmailing and extorting Letterman. More specifically, prosecutors say that Halderman asked for two million dollars in exchange for his promise not to sell a screenplay based on Letterman's escapades. Media coverage of the scandal turned quickly from Halderman's conduct to Letterman's. In particular, many asked, Did Letterman do anything wrong – and, in particular, anything illegal -- by having sex with women in his office? The term "sexual harassment" has been tossed around in the media during the course of the controversy, including by Halderman's lawyer, who claims to have evidence of it. But, legally speaking, did Letterman's conduct – based on what we know about it thus far -- constitute unlawful sexual harassment? In this column, I will lay out the basics of sexual harassment law, and then consider how these principles might or might not apply to the Letterman situation. The Basic Definition of Harassment: Quid Pro Quo or Hostile Work Environment To begin, it's important to know the basics of how sexual harassment law arose, and the two types of harassment the law recognizes as violating rights. Title VII, a federal law governing employment discrimination, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex — which the Supreme Court has defined to include harassment that is serious enough to affect the terms or conditions of employment. Sexual harassment takes one of two forms: quid pro quo, or hostile environment. (Sexual harassment is also prohibited by state fair employment laws, but they often mirror Title VII in scope.)
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Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a person with supervisory authority takes a tangible employment action (such as demotion or firing) against a subordinate employee who refuses to submit to sexual advances. "Sleep with me or you're fired," is the classic example here. Hostile work environment harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is so severe or so pervasive as to create an objectively hostile, abusive, or offensive working environment. An example with which readers might be familiar occurs in the movie "North Country" (which is based on a true story) in which female miners face a range of types of abuse from male co-workers and supervisors at the mine. Readers may ask, "Hostile from whose perspective?" The answer is that sexual harassment law
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This note was uploaded on 09/07/2011 for the course GEN BUS 202 taught by Professor Parks during the Fall '11 term at Boise State.

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Lessons in David Letterman Scandal -...

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