Harassment Quiz Results

Ken White*, attorney and sexual harassment law educator, recently spoke at FtBCon about Sexual Harassment.  As part of his presentation he developed a quiz regarding sexual harassment that was designed to educate and inform.  As such, the answers were provided immediately after responses were submitted.  Below you will find the aggregate responses to each question.


1.  Albert works for ConCo, a company hosting conventions in the United States. Albert feels he’s being harassed by his supervisor at ConCo, who keeps making sexual statements to him. What can Albert do?

  1. Make a claim under federal law.
  2. Make a claim under state law.
  3. Make a claim under city law.
  4. Possibly all of the above.
  5. Nothing.    

ANSWER: (d). As an employee of a private company, Albert is protected from sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In about half of the states in the United States, he is also protected by a parallel state law prohibiting sexual harassment. In some U.S. cities, he is also protected by local law.



Make a claim under federal law.


Make a claim under state law.


Make a claim under city law.


Possibly all of the above.




2.  Albert’s supervisor is fired for harassment. Albert’s new supervisor is great, but one of his co-workers has been harassing him. Does Albert have a claim against ConCo for the co-worker’s harassment?

  1. a.  Yes
  2. b.  No
  3. c.  Maybe

ANSWER: (c) Maybe. You should have known that would be the answer because a lawyer wrote this. ConCo is on the hook automatically if a supervisor harasses Albert, its employee. But if another employee harasses Albert, ConCo’s liability will depend on whether ConCo knew or should have known about the harassment, and whether ConCo addressed the harassment swiftly and appropriately. If the harassment was open and well-known in the workplace, or if Albert complained and ConCo failed to stop the harassment, ConCo will face liability. On the other hand, if ConCo had a policy against sexual harassment, and disciplined the wrongdoer once Albert reported the harassment, it might not be liable.









3.  ConCo assigns Albert to work at KillEveryoneYouLoveCon, a convention for fans of George R.R. Martin. A guest at the convention repeatedly makes sexual advances to Albert and persists when Albert says no. Albert     would like to leave, but can’t abandon his convention duties. He     complains to his boss, but his boss says that the guest isn’t an     employee and ConCo can’t do anything about it. Does ConCo have to     do anything about the bad conduct of someone who isn’t even their employee?

  1. YES
  2. NO

ANSWER: Yes! Under federal law, employers are obligated to take reasonable steps to protect their employees from harassment by third parties. Remember that when the UPS guy is hitting on your receptionist.







4.  Quite frankly Albert regrets staying at ConCo. Some of the other employees make     his life miserable. They’re all straight, as is Albert, but they call Albert “homo,” say they’ll “make him their bitch,” and mock his close as feminine. Albert wonders if he has a sexual    harassment claim. Does he?

  1. a.  No. It’s not sexual, so it’s not sexual harassment.
  2. b.  No. Even if it’s sexual, they are just kidding.
  3. c.  Yes.    

Answer: Yes! Harassment can be unlawful under federal law, and the laws of many states, even if it’s not premised on sexual attraction or a sexual advance. Harassment based on gender, sexuality, or perceived or stereotypical gender characteristics can be sexual harassment.



No. It’s not sexual, so it’s not sexual harassment.


No. Even if it’s sexual, they are just kidding.




5.  Albert quits ConCo, but returns to KillEveryoneYouLoveCon the next year. Another     guest at the convention sexually harasses him. Albert complains to ConCo employees. This will surprise you, but they don’t do anything. Like many abstractions in quizzes, they are assholes. Does Albert have a claim against ConCo for violation of state and federal sexual harassment laws?

  1. YES
  2. NO

Answer: No! Title VII, and its parallel state laws, regulate the employer-employee relationship. They don’t protect citizens in the abstract. That’s one reason that conventions enact policies. If the harassment is extreme enough, Albert might have a claim against the site of the convention, or against ConCo, for negligent failure to protect him as a guest, but it would not be a sexual harassment claim under Title VII or its state equivalents.







6.  Albert is replaced at ConCo by Beth. She’s the only female employee at ConCo. Her male coworkers make her life miserable. They unplug her computer, pour paint in her locker, bad-mouth her to clients, and undermine her with the boss. They don’t treat any male employees that way. However, they don’t hit on her or say or do anything sexual to her. Does she have a sexual harassment complaint?

  1. No. The conduct isn’t sexual, so it’s not sexual harassment.
  2. Yes.

ANSWER: Yes. Sexual harassment is harassment based on gender. It doesn’t have to be overtly sexual. Singling out someone for abuse based on their gender can be sexual harassment even if it doesn’t involve sexual conduct.



No. The conduct isn’t sexual, so it’s not sexual harassment.




7.  Beth has a coworker, Steve. Steve is offended by a picture on Beth’s desk,     which shows Beth holding hands with her partner. Steve feels that the picture represents Beth shoving her sexuality down Steve’s throat. Also, Beth once made a joke about how she is gay. She saw     that it made Steve uncomfortable and didn’t bring it up again, but    it upset Steve. Steve listens to Shouty McRedface, a popular talk radio host who says that under American sexual harassment law, anyone can sue for being offended. Does Steve have a valid claim for a hostile work environment, if he is sincerely offended by Beth’s picture and joke?

  1. Yes.
  2. No.

ANSWER: No. Under Title VII and parallel state laws require a plaintiff to show that the objectionable conduct was so “severe or pervasive” that it changed the nature of the work environment, and that a reasonable person would find the conduct hostile, abusive, or offensive. Though it is true on a facile level that anyone can sue anyone for anything in America, Steve’s suit will not get far. It will probably be dismissed at the pleading state, or at least at summary judgment, given a sufficiently awesome lawyer.







8.  Jane, a guest at BigSkepticalCon, complains that Sam, another guest, has made     harassing comments to Jane. The organizers of BigSkepticalCon talk to Jane, and based on Jane’s statement ask Sam to leave for violating BigSkepticalCon’s harassment policy. Sam complains that the organizers didn’t offer a fair process to hear out Sam’s side of the story, and that BigSkepticalCon is retaliating against Sam for Sam’s free speech. Does Sam have potential due process and First Amendment claims against BigSkepticalCon under U.S. law?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: No! The First Amendment, and the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments only limit what the government can do. BigSkepticalCon is a private organization, not the government. Moreover, BigSkepticalCon has freedom of association, which is part of the reason that it can expel guests who violate its rules.







9.  BigSkepticalCon expels Sam after the incident in #8, above. BigSkepticalCon     employees confront Sam in one of the public merchant areas of the convention, tell him Jane’s accusations, take him by the arm, and march him out of the conference space. Afterwards they tweet “Just expelled Sam for sexual harassment. Not acceptable.     #readthepolicy.” Can Sam sue for that?

  1.     YES
  2.     NO

Answer: Yes! BigSkepticalCon – or any other private organization – can enforce its rules, but should use best practices in doing so. That means avoiding releasing information to people who don’t have a need to know it, training its staff in safe and legal practices, and looking to law enforcement to handle law enforcement tasks like physically expelling someone from a space. BigSkepticalCon employees should avoid public confrontations, physical contact, and releasing statements that make negative assertions about an identifiable person. Sam might sue for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress (based on the public confrontation), and assault and battery. Then come the lawyers. Always with the lawyers.







10.  Sam’s expulsion from Big SkepticalCon causes controversy and tumult.  Blogger Bill writes “I can’t tell you what I’ve heard from     sources, but based on it, Sam is a sexual harasser.” Blogger Gwen writes “I saw Sam grope Jane.” Blogger Steph links to Blogger     Gwen’s post and says “if that’s what happened, that’s sexual harassment and igSkepticalCon was right to expel Sam.” Blogger Wayne writes “this is just an example of feminazis attempting to     shut down reasoned discourse and take over skepticism for political     reasons. When Sam sues everybody but Wayne for defamation (Wayne lives in the back seat of an ’82 Plymouth and blogs via the wi-fi signal at the Dollar Store, and is judgment-proof anyway), who has the best and earliest defense?

  1. a.  Blogger Bill
  2. b.  Blogger Gwen
  3. c.  Blogger Steph

ANSWER: c, Blogger Steph. Statements of fact about someone might be defamatory. Statements of opinion based on disclosed facts usually are not. Blogger Steph explicitly offered an opinion based on disclosed facts: somebody else’s report of what they saw. That’s protected speech, even if Gwen’s statement turns out not to be true. Gwen’s accusation about what she saw is protected if it’s true, but it’s a statement of fact, so it could be defamatory if it’s not true. Blogger Bill offers an opinion, but it’s based on facts he alludes to but doesn’t disclose, so it might be defamatory because it implies facts that might be true or false. Blogger Wayne eats paste and is unclear on the distinction between fact and opinion.



Blogger Bill


Blogger Gwen


Blogger Steph


*Ken White is a litigator and criminal defense attorney at Brown White & Newhouse LLP in Los Angeles. As part of his practice, he trains employees and supervisors at his clients’ businesses on how to comply with sexual harassment law. He also blogs about legal issues at Popehat.com.

On the Loss of False Male Privilege

by Trinity Aodh

False Male Privilege is experienced by trans women prior to transition.  It only affects us externally, and only until our presentation changes.

Back in May, I traveled to Women in Secularism 2.  It was far from my first time getting somewhere by greyhound bus, but it was my first time taking one while presenting distinctly feminine, as I generally opted to travel while presenting androgynously even after my transition.  I arrived at the bus station early, only to find out it was running late, leaving me at the station for well over an hour and a half.  I passed the time listening to music and texting, generally trying to ignore the world around me.  A young man was sitting on the other side of the station on a laptop when I arrived, and he stayed for about half an hour before putting away his computer and getting up to leave.  On his way out he stopped in front of me and started to talk to me.  I looked up and took out one headphone, assuming he might be from out of town and asking for directions.  Instead he asked me what kind of music I like, and what I was listening to, even asking me to show him some, indicating the earbuds I was using (gross…).  Eventually he gave up and left, only to come back a minute later without his things to try again, asking me what concerts I had been to and other small talk before finally giving up again after too many single word answers.

The bus itself was fairly empty, and the ride uneventful apart from being late and nearly missing a connection.  I arrived in DC, found my way down to the metro and started reading the machine to figure out how to buy myself a ticket that will get me to my friend’s house.  Two men immediately came over, and started explaining the machine to me as if it were something I was incapable of figuring out, including asking such personal information as where I was going and why I was in town, stuff I didn’t think much of giving out at the time.  The metro ride itself, to my friend’s house and then to the conference and back everyday, was constantly full of stares.  One man, riding with what I assume were his wife and children, spent the entire thirty minutes we were on the train staring very intently at my thighs.  Other times I’d occasionally catch whispers between groups of men about the “chick with red hair.”


Arriving back in Pennsylvania, my ride from the bus station to home fell through, and I wouldn’t have another one for about six hours.  I decided to walk a couple miles to an area with some shops to pass time.  While walking next to the road I noticed an unusual frequency of people honking their horns.  For an area with such a small population, and so little traffic it wasn’t usual to hear it every couple minutes as I did.  It finally struck me as a single car honked passing by, with no other cars or people in the area: it was all being directed at me.  Why was more obvious when a man in a red convertible pulled over to offer me a ride, with an expectant “are you sure?” when I declined.

Not a single thing listed is something I had experienced while male-presenting, and none of it was pleasant.  An even worse set of events happened just a couple weeks ago, walking by myself on my way home through a more populated city.  I passed by a crowded bar with a few men outside smoking cigarettes.  One of them looked at me, his eyes obviously going straight from my breasts to my butt.  He said “Hey there, sweetheart” followed by something I couldn’t quite make out.  As I got past him I muttered “I’m not your sweetheart” under my breath, quiet enough he likely didn’t hear.  I got a few feet away and I heard him yell behind me “Hey!  Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”  I quickened my pace without turning around, and my hand instinctively rested on my knife.

As I got to the corner where I needed to cross, I heard two men coming up behind me laughing, both wearing tuxedos.  They looked at me and said “Don’t worry, we’re not going to creep you out… well maybe we’ll creep you out a little” and one stepped towards me reaching his arm out.  I backed up putting distance between me and him, and refused to blink until after they crossed.  The traffic light cycled once more before I crossed, and made my way to my bike, thankful the rest of the way wasn’t as populated.  Riding home, on the empty path I got one more comment, shouted anonymously from some home nearby.  “Hey good looking, going for a bike ride?”

In the span of ten minutes, I was persistently harassed in a way I never experienced previous to transition, by people treating me as they would any other woman passing by.  I never felt more terrified of the people I passed on the street previous to transition including when a man once pulled a switchblade and demanded my wallet while I was still in university.  These people weren’t interested in my purse or my jewelry, they wanted my body, and that made me feel incredibly small.

All else being equal, the levels of harassment from strangers on the street I experienced before and after transition went from a single attempted mugging to nearly every man I pass staring, whispering, or shouting about my body, or even outright threatening me.  To treat anyone this way is unacceptable even if it were just one incident, and the reality is far worse than any isolated encounter.  The world is teaching me that it does not value my comfort or safety as a woman, and I have little choice but to listen.

FtBCon2: Secular Woman Track

Secular Woman's track at FtBCon 2 focused on sexual harassment laws, STEM, 2013 trends, women of color and social justice, and homeschooling.  Below you will find the video for each.

Sexual Harassment Law and You: In the past year anti-harassment policies have become more common at conventions as communities have begun to discuss how harassment can deter guests and ruin the convention experience. But how do these privately adopted policies mesh with America’s public anti-harassment laws? Ken White, attorney and legal blogger, will outline how American anti-harassment laws work, how convention policies supplement them, and how best practices can make them more effective.  There is also a related quiz.

Women in STEM:  Join a group of women working in the fields of science and technology as they discuss issues relevant to being a woman in STEM, how their atheism intersects with their science.


Trends in 2013:  Kim Rippere, Julia Burke, Elsa Roberts, and MA Melby will discuss trends and developments in 2013 at the intersection of social justice, feminism, and equality in the secular movement and beyond.


Social Justice and Young Women of Color:  Kim Veal (of the Black Freethinkers) will join Raina Rhoades (of Rhoades to Reality) to host a panel on the issues social justice and young women of color. They will be joined by Noa Jones and Georgina Capetillo. They’ll be discussing the topic and taking questions from viewers.

Religion and  Homeschooling:  A free flowing discussion about homeschooling, religion, and gender. Reprising the discussion from the 3rd Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion.


I Hide Inside

Second article for Secular Woman's Sexual Assault Awareness Month series

by Shanna Wells, follow her on twitter

A follow up to her first article on Street Harassment.

It’s summer in Philadelphia. The sky scraper in which I work is just three blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Behind the Hall is a shaded green space, an enviable place to be on my lunch hour. But to get there I must pass a construction site. As a large woman, I’m not sure which comments are worse from the all-male crew: being told I’m a hideous excuse of a woman, or being told how my body will be used for the man’s pleasure. I dissociate, seeing myself through their eyes. Just steps from where the Declaration of Independence was signed, I am a prisoner – in my office, in my body, in my gender.

I Hide Inside

The drills and jackhammers

Sting my blossom ears.

Next door, men are erecting

Another giant penis to themselves.

It juts skyward, dry humping the Universe.


I hide inside.


At noon, workmen dominate

The passive sidewalk.

They practice the manly art

Of visual molestation, connoisseurs,

Testing for body, bouquet and breasts.


I hide inside.


My buttocks and teeth clenched,

I pass, watching myself pass,

Watching them watching me pass.

I suck in my stomach, tensing for the blow.


It makes me look thinner, too.