SEXUAL ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT
By Ronald A. Karp, managing partner
There has been a recent cultural revolution in America on the issue of sexual assault and harassment. Women for years suffered from assaults and harassment by men who had dominion over their lives. What has caught the press attention recently has been the famous men who have used their position to sexually assault and harass women, but there are countless victims that have borne this treatment from supervisors in the workplace who were not famous and they needed to keep their jobs to pay their rent and put food on the table. Before the recent rash of sexual assaults become prominent, I was privileged to represent a group of women who withstood abhorrent conduct from their supervisor in a Fortune 500 company. This resulted in an extensive jury trial during which the defense tried to bring up every event in the lives of these women that might show they were “damaged goods” or they “asked for this”—- two typical but obnoxious defenses that have been raised for decades.
As the trial pressed on, I found that I actually gained strength from my clients, who came to court each day determined to withstand the onslaught of accusations. They fought through tears on the stand and the more they were attacked the more it back-fired in front of the jury. At one point during the trial, the judge called defense counsel to the bench as said, (I am paraphrasing): “my God, even a prostitute has certain rights and you are treating these women as if they were prostitutes. You are very close to the line and I would caution you that a jury is watching what you are trying to do.” Defense counsel ignored the warning and pressed ahead. When I delivered my closing argument I told the jury something like this: “You have had an opportunity to watch what happens to women in a courtroom who have the courage to stand up for their rights. You can reward the defense for the way they have conducted this trial but I ask you not to let them get away with it. Send them a message that in our county we don’t tolerate this conduct in a work environment and we don’t tolerate this kind of defense in a courtroom.”
The jury found in our favor and gave us a generous verdict. I say “us” because by the time the trial was over, I felt that we were one unit under attack daily. Indeed, in the defense counsel’s closing argument they attacked me and the psychiatrists who testified on behalf of the women for putting on what they considered was a fraudulent case. I have conducted many jury trials in my life but I can’t think of any verdict that was more satisfying, because the defense attacks were so widespread and relentless. I was so proud of the way my clients endured these daily attacks. Hopefully more trials will not be needed in the future and cases will resolve in fair settlements, but most important of all, hopefully the offensive behavior—now under a magnifying glass—will cease.