Sexual harassment can be defined as “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2009).” With the definition of sexual harassment in mind one can read an article by Mireya Navarro, titled “His Way Meets a Highway Called Court” published on July 10, 2005 in The New York Times and contemplate if the events that took place constitute sexual harassment or if the events that took place reflect the chief executive’s own personal influence on the organization’s culture.
In the article employees are claiming sexual harassment against the chief executive of American Apparel, Dov Charney. The lawsuits are being brought about by three individuals that claim to have been exposed to sexual innuendos and sexual misconduct. Charney is being accused of “using crude language and gestures, conducting job interviews in his underwear, ordering the hiring of women in whom he had a sexual interest and giving one of the plaintiffs a vibrator (Navarro, 2005).” The plaintiffs are not claiming that Charney wanted to have sex with them, but the plaintiffs claim they were subjected to “ a “wholly intolerable” and “intimidating” work atmosphere”, and exposed “to “egregious” sexual comments and behavior (Navarro, 2005).” Recalling the definition of sexual harassment one could certainly say that the pending charges against Mr. Charney do meet the definition of sexual harassment even though he claims that his behavior is part of his persona and is acceptable in his line of work. Apparently the plaintiffs were influenced by a different culture that does not find Mr. Charney’s behavior as acceptable and found his behavior offensive and invasive.
Mr. Charney has developed an organizational culture that reflects his personal culture. The culture of the organization is not that of the American norm and has left Mr. Charney suseptible to the type of claims the plaintiffs are filing. There are other employees that seem to share the same view point as Mr. Charney and do not take offense to walking into Mr. Charney’s office to find the chief executive conducting business in a pair of underwear. The reasoing of such employees is the company manufactures underwear. The crude language that the plaintiffs found offensive is embraced as part of the organization’s cutural norm as, “Alexandra Spunt, a writer in the company’s art department, said crude language comes from all quarters.”We all use it,” she said. “We’re working in a creative department in the fashion business (Navarro, 2005).” According to the interpretation of some employees, the culture of Mr. Charney’s organization is acceptable and perhaps the plaintiffs should reconsider the industry in which they seek employment. All organizations are made up of different organizational cultures from retail stores to strip clubs, and perhaps the organization’s culture should be considered and compared to one’s own cultural standards before seeking work in a questionable organization.
In conclusion, after reading this article one may find that the acceptable or unacceptable boundaries of sexual harassment may be influenced by one’s own culture, but in the end the dispute will be determined by a judge who is influenced by another set of cultural norms by which the final judgment will be delivered. According to the definition of sexual harassment, Mr. Charney has in fact infringed upon the plaintiffs’ personal boundaries and crossed the line into sexual harassment. As an employer Mr. Charney should reconsider his organization’s culture and make the needed adjustments. Mr. Charney does not have to deny his own culture, but maybe he could find a happy median to where his cultural norms are not found to be so abrasive and offensive to employees and spiteful to his own organization. In the end Mr. Charney is not allowing diversity to flourish within his organization and that fact may be more harmful to the organization than Mr. Charney suppressing his own cultural beliefs.
Navarro, M. (2005, July 10). Fashion & Style. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/fashion/sundaystyles/10HARASS.html?pagewanted=1&sq=harassment&st=cse&scp=8
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2009, March 11). Sexual Harassment. Retrieved June 29, 2009, from eeoc.gov: http://www.eeoc.gov/types/sexual_harassment.html