When Wayne County Sheriff’s Officer Philip Kozlowski complained at work that a female boss was sexually harassing him, his male supervisors allegedly laughed it off.
One undersheriff allegedly told him, “Take one for the team.”
Kozlowski took it to court.
In a salacious employment lawsuit that’s unfolding in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Kozlowski claims a female boss sexually taunted him for a year with raunchy comments, inappropriate behavior and unwanted advances, including: offering him oral sex; suggesting he get his wife drunk and have a threesome with her; giving his partners fake assignments so that she could be alone with him; frequently driving by his house, and texting his personal cell phone.
Kozlowski, however, isn’t suing the woman. He’s suing his employer for allegedly ignoring his plea for help, joining hundreds of men nationwide who are debunking machismo stereotypes every year in filing complaints about sexual harassment.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the percentage of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than doubled over the last 25 years, from 8% in 1990 to 17% in 2015. That year, 1,165 men complained about sexual harassment, compared to 5,656 women.
Although the number of men filing claims has leveled off over the past five years, an average of 1,200 men claim sexual harassment every year in American workplaces. Legal experts believe the number could be higher because there’s still a stigma attached to men complaining about women’s sexual advances.
“People are surprised that men would complain about this, and that could be a mistake,” said Ernest Haffner, an EEOC attorney in Washington, D.C., who tracks harassment in the workplace. “Employers should take harassment seriously, regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman. They all need to be treated the same.”
Haffner said that one mistake employers sometimes make is assuming — and sometimes even arguing, as has been done in some lawsuits — that men shouldn’t be offended by women’s sexual advances. The law doesn’t look at it that way, he said, noting that federal employment laws cover any kind of sexual harassment, whether it’s man on woman, woman on man, man on man, or woman on woman.
Employment law experts note that what’s not clear is whether more men are being sexually harassed at work, or whether men are just more willing to come forward about it now. It’s also not known how many men are complaining about sexual harassment by women versus men. The statistics don’t break it down that way.
Haffner notes that in the eyes of the law, the only thing that matters is whether sexual harassment occurred — not the gender of the accuser or the accused. And no one — man or woman — should be mocked or ignored when complaining about sexual harassment, he said, stressing: “An employer shouldn’t engage in stereotyping when it looks at sexual harassment claims.”
That’s what Kozlowski claims happened to him.
‘Where’s the harassment?’
At the heart of Kozlowski’s lawsuit is a claim that the Wayne County Sheriff’s Officer did nothing to stop the harassment. That’s a common theme in sexual harassment cases — employers turning a blind eye to bad behavior in the workplace. But what’s perhaps unique in this case is the alleged misbehaving happened in a male-dominated workplace that isn’t used to this scenario: a sheriff’s department.
“Before he filed a formal complaint, he went to his supervisors, but they laughed it off,” said Bingham Farms attorney Scott Batey, who is representing Kozlowski. “That’s one of the problems you have in these reverse cases. A lot of men might think, ‘Well, where’s the harassment?’ ”
That makes it even harder for men to come forward, Batey said, adding: “We’re supposed to be men. We’re supposed to be tough. The public’s perception is, ‘You should be so lucky to be harassed by a woman.’ ”
Kozlowski felt anything but.
According to his lawsuit and his lawyer, here is what happened for nearly a year at the Wayne County Sheriff’s department, where the 53-year-old Kozlowski worked for more than two decades before a female superior allegedly turned his life upside down.
In early November 2014, a female sergeant started sexually harassing Kozlowski and continued to do so until the following October. Over the year, she texted and called his personal cell phone for nonwork related issues, drove by his home several times, purposely sat close to him, pulled him off assignments so that she could spend time with him and locked herself in an office to be alone with him and turned out the lights.
Her inappropriate comments ran the gamut. They include:
* “What would you do if I were to unbutton your pants and just start sucking your (expletive)?”
* “You need to talk to me the way you talk to your wife.”
* “Did you see ’50 Shades of Grey’? I bet you are just like him in bed.”
* “I’d love to sit in your Jacuzzi topless.”
* “Your wife is a ho from the ghetto.”
On October 24, 2015, Kozlowski filed a written complaint alleging sexual harassment at work. When the accused learned about the complaint, she told a corporal who had taken the complaint: “Kozlowski doesn’t know who he’s (expletive) with. I’m going to (expletive) him, and (expletive) him good,” the lawsuit claims.
According to Batey and the lawsuit, the woman retaliated against Kozlowski by claiming he sexually assaulted her. An investigation followed. Kozlowski never was criminally charged, but he was briefly suspended and eventually demoted to a desk job answering phones. The demotion cost him $10,000 a year.
The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office has declined to comment on the story. The Free Press is not naming the woman because she claimed sexual assault. Kozlowski has declined to be interviewed. Both he and the woman still work at the sheriff’s department.
“It’s been devastating to his career. The very fact that he had to file a lawsuit is devastating to his career,” Batey said. “What a lot of employers don’t get is that they can have an employee who is harassing someone, and all they have to do is take prompt remedial actions and stop it.”
But that didn’t happen in Kozlowski’s case, Batey said, so he filed a complaint with the EEOC, which issued him a right-to-sue letter on Sept. 1.
On Nov. 28, Kozlowski filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. The suit claims that the sheriff’s department mishandled his case from the start, ignoring his plea for help, mocking him and then retaliating against him when he finally spoke up. Not once, the lawsuit claims, did the employer do anything to stop the harassment.
“He was left with no alternative other than to file a lawsuit,” Batey said, adding sexual harassment victims typically don’t want to file suits. “They just want the harassment to stop and to keep working.”
Smaller awards for men
Kozlowski’s lawsuit seeks economic damages for, among other things, “humiliation, embarrassment, outrage” and “loss of income.”
Similar lawsuits filed by other men have yielded six-figure awards and settlements, but nothing compared to the multimillion-dollar verdicts that women win in sexual harassment lawsuits.
For example, a Texas jury in 2014 awarded $567,000 to a male deputy who claimed his female boss at the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office sexually harassed him to the point where he was forced to quit because he felt humiliated and embarrassed.
That same year, a jury in New York awarded a Queens man $40,000 in a sexual harassment lawsuit involving allegations that a female company president demanded sex from him if he wanted to keep his job.
In Michigan, a former male lab technician at Lens Crafters won a $192,500 settlement in 2011 after accusing the optical company of allowing a female coworker to sexually harass him and ignoring his complaints because he was a man.
In comparison, a Chicago jury awarded $80.7 million to a former female United Parcel Service manager who said UPS retaliated against her after she accused a driver of sexual harassment. The jury agreed that the shipping company fostered a hostile work environment when it failed to listen to her complaints of harassment and punished her for them.
In 2012, a California jury awarded $168 million to a physician’s assistant who claimed she was constantly asked for sex by doctors at the hospital where she worked, but that her employer did nothing to stop the harassment.
Why such bigger verdicts for women versus men?
Unfortunately for males, society still doesn’t seem ready for it.
“There are clearly cultural barriers for men to come forward with those sorts of allegations,” said New Orleans employment law expert Scott Schneider, who noted that more sexual harassment could be going on against males by women than we know about.
“But for a variety of reasons … a substantial percentage of those men probably don’t come forward with it,” said Schneider, of the national Fisher and Phillips employment law firm. “There’s a social stigma for a man to come forward.”
But, Schneider noted, men appear to be less shy about reporting sexual harassment by men. In his … years practicing employment law, Schneider said he has seen sexual harassment lawsuits filed by men against men, and women against women. But he rarely hears about men suing over the conduct of women.
Schneider said one problem in the workplace that gives rise to sexual harassment claims is supervisors getting into relationships with a subordinate. This, he stressed, should be avoided.
“I’ve seen this a number of times. There’s a consensual relationship between a boss and subordinate. Someone breaks it off. The boss is a jilted lover and retaliates,” Schneider said. “Sometimes they end up in wonderful marriages. But typically they end up really poorly. And that’s why we tell people, ‘Not a good idea.’
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