I wish I could say that sexual harassment in Hollywood didn't happen all the time, but it does. I'm not sure if it's more common in film & TV than in other industries, but for what it's worth, a British study found last year that one in three women has reported being sexually harassed at work. I have heard of and experienced plenty of situations like what you've described, from unwanted touching and sleazy comments to being tasked with ordering hookers (a friend of mine really thought this was a normal assistant duty until she moved to a new company found a decent boss). Paradoxically, sometimes formality and propriety are required in Hollywood; God forbid you use the wrong sized brad, call an actress by the wrong nickname or say "just a sec" instead of "one moment please"...but other times you're assigned "projects" like taking shots or researching sex toys. Perhaps companies in Hollywood have such oversexed environments because we spend our days passing around scripts like I WANT TO FUCK YOUR SISTER, pitching dick jokes and seriously theorizing about whether a lesbian sex scene can get people to go see a creepy ballet thriller.
But that doesn't mean sexual harassment is acceptable - and we shouldn't grant Hollywood impunity from the law. Now, I'm not a legal scholar, nor an expert in sexual harassment...so I figure this is a good opportunity for us all to brush up on the rules:
From the United Stated Department of Justice:
Sexual harassment occurs when employment decisions affecting an employee, such as hiring, firing, promotions, awards, transfers or disciplinary actions, result from submission to or rejection of unwelcome sexual conduct. Sexual harassment can also be any activity which creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment for members of one sex, whether such activity is carried out by a supervisor or by a co-worker. This could include such workplace conduct as displaying "pinup" calendars or sexually demeaning pictures, telling sexually oriented jokes, making sexually offensive remarks, engaging in unwanted sexual teasing, subjecting another employee to pressure for dates, sexual advances, or unwelcome touching.From the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission):
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.
It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.The US DOJ offers the following "Action for victims":
Now, I understand that telling your harasser that the behavior is unwelcome is a lot easier said than done. Like you said, you don't want to risk your job - and I know how hard it is to find a job in Hollywood. Still, you shouldn't feel like you can't do anything about it - and your boss shouldn't keep getting away with sexual harassment. If you feel like you simply can't talk to your boss about his illegal behavior, talk to your HR rep. (If you work on a show, then your HR person might be someone at the studio or production company.) You shouldn't have to quit - and know that it's illegal for your boss to retaliate and fire you for complaining - but I do believe that no job is worth being miserable...and as important as your job seems, there will be more out there. Never underestimate your own sanity and happiness. It might not hurt to tell your friends you're looking for a new job...maybe an opportunity will come up and you'll be able to land a new gig before quitting and living without a paycheck.
- Know your rights.
- Tell the harasser that the behavior is unwelcome and must cease immediately.
- Report such behavior immediately to the supervisor, or a higher level official.
- Seek support from a friend or colleague.
- Keep a written record, documenting as precisely as possible what happened, when it took place, the names of witnesses, your response, and any other information that may be helpful later.
- Find out whether other employees have also been harassed and whether they could offer corroborating testimony.
- Seek advice on how to deal with the situation from your Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), the Office of Professional Responsibility, or the Office of the Inspector General.
- Find out what the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Complaint process is.
- Discuss options with an EEO Counselor or your representative.
- File a complaint.
In terms of my own personal advice for dealing with this stuff, I do think that there's a difference between being felt up by your boss and being forced to hear inappropriate comments from male co-workers who don't have any power or authority over you. Maybe both are illegal, but while (I think) the first is worth filing a complaint with HR, the second one might not be. If you decide to try and survive the environment, I find that the best strategy is to ignore the idiots and try to find coworkers you don't despise. At my old job, I met one guy who delighted in constantly asking me if I knew the definitions of various obscure and graphic sexual acts...but I also met some girls AND guys I'm still close friends with. If you're in an small office with only uncool people, try to escape for lunch or use headphones to listen to music or watch Hulu. You don't have to have lunch with everybody (or anybody). You don't have to attend every ill-advised work karaoke outing or houseparty. You don't have to give everyone your cell number, friend them on Facebook or talk to them on AIM and Gchat. Sometimes keeping up a separate work life and private life can prevent people from feeling like they are close enough to you to make certain comments. Of course, douchebags abound...so you may want to tell them to shut the fuck up every now and then. But some people will persist in their harassment even if you ignore or stand up to them - and if the environment becomes something you can't deal with, maybe you really should file a formal complaint.
I've spent over an hour Googling for more about sexual harassment in Hollywood, and it's almost shocking how little I've been able to find, save for brief articles about allegations against celebs and the occasional agent. I did find one story about development execs: in the 1992 case Wayne Mogilefsky v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles, a CE at Silver Pictures accused the company's president, Michael Levy, of promising him a promotion and salary increase in exchange for sexual favors. The case was later dismissed.
In another behind-the-scenes case in 2008, an assistant on the movie Baby on Board accused her boss, a producer on the film, of sexual harassment. Her lawsuit alleged that he repeatedly groped her, slapped her buttocks, asked her to massage his back and shoulders, told her she "would look really hot" if she got breast implants, asked her to buy him condoms and asked her as she and other employees were at a strip club to obtain a stripper's phone number because he wanted to have sex with her. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out the result of the case.
A few more articles:
Casting and Caste-Ing: Reconciling Artistic Freedom and Antidiscrimination Norms - A UCLA research paper about the legality of race and sex classifications in casting announcements for actors, which are common in the film industry and have profound social consequences, yet have been entirely overlooked by legal scholars.
Letterman and Me - a Vanity Fair article by Nell Scovell, one of the few women ever to write for Late Night with David Letterman, about the hostile, sexually charged atmosphere at the show.
As depressing as this all is, don't be discouraged. There are plenty of respectable men and women in Hollywood who run offices completely free of sexual harassment. I hope your next job is at one of them.