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How one U.S. lawmaker is looking to combat sexual harassment in academia

Most of us would like to think that academia is somehow more immune than other employment sectors to sexual harassment. However, recent reports have suggested this is not the case. Indeed, the last six months have seen several stories outlining rampant sexual harassment within the science departments of several major universities, with students falling victim to the predatory practices of their professors.  

In fact, so many women have come forward to share their own stories since this information went public that it has prompted one Congresswoman to begin investigating whether a historic federal anti-discrimination measure could perhaps be deployed to help address the problem.

While Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) has yet to introduce any sort of formal legislation, she has begun inquiring as to the legality of a measure that would require universities to inform fellow institutes of higher learning looking to hire a particular faculty or staff member whether that person was found to have violated Title IX at any time while in their employ.  

Speier has also formally sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education inquiring as to whether such disclosures should already be required.

As potentially helpful as this legislation could prove to be, legal experts are already predicting that it would not only prove difficult to implement, but also be the subject of considerable legal challenges.   

For instance, they point out that it would be difficult for universities to know when their employees are actively seeking employment elsewhere and, even then, many have proven historically reluctant to release detailed personnel records out of fear of running afoul of state privacy laws.

Furthermore, experts have indicated that should such a measure pass, it’s a virtual guarantee that it would be challenged in the courts by employee groups and, in the event the bill somehow survived this legal challenge, it's still highly unlikely that any reports subsequently released by universities would ever include the results of any internal investigations.

“A few sentences is what I think most institutions would be willing to do,” said one authority on the matter. “And that’s not being chicken. That’s just the world we live in.”

It will be fascinating to see what, if anything, comes of this movement on Capitol Hill. Stay tuned for updates.

If you have been victimized by sexual harassment in your place of work, please understand that you are not alone and you can take action. An experienced legal professional can help you hold the responsible parties accountable and seek justice.

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