When Niagara County native Kathy Neville first went to U.S. District Court with her sexual-harassment suit, "sexual harassment was mistakenly regarded as a woman's issue," she recalls. Today it's most definitely an issue for all of corporate America.
"I believe my case was the first that went all the way through that court, which was not that long ago. Amazing," Neville exclaims.
"The 1990s have seen a virtual explosion in high-profile sexual-harassment cases, from Clarence Thomas to Bill Clinton."
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has agreed to pay $34 million to settle charges of sexual harassment toward women in U.S. factories. Ford Motor Co. is handing over $7.5 million to workers to address complaints of harassment.
Through her research, the consultant to Fortune 500 companies has found that, in the workplace, imbalances of power -- who has it and who doesn't -- play a much bigger role in sexual harassment than previously thought.
"Today's employees are not willing to sacrifice the loss of their self-esteem just to say that they work for an industry giant or a powerful network if they, in fact, work for a tyrant or a mean-spirited person and put in 12-hour workdays," warns Neville, who did graduate work at Niagara University.
U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin did find credible her claim that her Buffalo supervisor in 1981 grabbed her and kissed her against her will, later commenting, "If you do everything right with this company, you'll go a long way."
Former local news anchor Molly McCoy testified at Neville's trial that the same male employee also kissed her. Yet Curtin ruled that Neville, who had been named Career Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women's Club, had failed to prove "hostile environment sexual harassment," though this was confirmed by an appellate court, while upholding Curtin's judgment.
Neville was not going to be silenced. She went from victim to victor.
She took the issue to "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," "Good Morning America," Larry King, Maury Povich, "Oprah" and the Wall Street Journal. She has served as a consultant to Warner Bros. for the marketing of "Disclosure," the Michael Douglas-Demi Moore film in which a man is sexually harassed by his ex-lover-turned-boss. Men are victims of sexual harassment in about 11 percent of cases.
This consultant also has worked with law firms, law enforcement agencies and the armed forces/Department of Defense on education on the problem of sexual harassment.
For her new study, "Internal Affairs," she has researched everyone from badly behaving CEOs to factory workers threatening rape on a production line.
Neville includes a who's who in sexual harassment -- such asprofiles of the Sexual Overachiever, the Party Animal, Bare Parts Manager and the Thrill-Seeker -- in her guide, subtitled "The Abuse of Power, Sexual Harassment and Hypocrisy in the Workplace."
There's the Traditional Sexist, who is "secretly still annoyed that women are in the workplace. He may adore the women in his immediate life (wife, sisters, daughters), but he places little value on the women he encounters in 'his world.' Knowing that he must have 'some women visible' at his company, he tried to place them in positions that have no real authority."
The Boundary Hunter "constantly tests the most dangerous boundaries in life. This individual insufficiently sublimates his sex drive. Men who are boundary hunters are often considered to be sex addicts. Many people feel President Clinton is one."
In addition, meet the Front Man:
"Much like in primitive tribes, this male wants to impress the rest of the tribe of men," notes Neville, who holds an undergraduate degree in marketing from Rochester Institute of Technology. "Because of feelings of insecurity and wanting to be accepted and liked by the other men, this man will make a point to harass or put women down sexually in front of male co-workers. Although these men realize they are being insulting, they feel like they are exhibiting acts of bravery, as ridiculous as that reasoning may be. In the case of primitive tribes, one hunter would run ahead of a group and attack the enemy. In this case, the Front Man strikes out at women."
Women can be just as guilty.
There's also the Power Maiden, who makes "a grand display of 'deferring' to their more powerful male boss. Power maidens enjoy being around powerful men in the workplace. They will shop for them, feed them, listen to them, sacrifice their own personal lives for them. They thrive on the sexual energy surrounding their relationships with their powerful bosses and love being part of the 'inner circle' surrounding their superior. Some may be unhappy with their own marriages or home lives." Some women (and men) denigrate themselves by calling a female colleague a bimbo or bitch.
That's sexual harassment, and "there's more of that today," Neville says.
Her personal story has a happy ending in her 40s. She's getting married for the first time, in the spring.
Neville was vacationing with her mom, Mildred of Wilson, in Switzerland when she met Harvard-educated cardiologist Jeff Latham. The doctor had picked up a crucifix that had fallen off Neville's neck.
"As my mother has noted, giving 15 years to the issue of sexual harassment most definitely cut into my personal life," she observes.
"He's a very nice man, so he was well worth the wait."