Victims of sexual harassment still face an unfair judicial process, and Congress and clinicians can pave the way to improving that system, according to sexual harassment researcher Louise Fitzgerald, PhD.
"In spite of the fact that there has been considerable progress in sexual harassment policy and law, it's questionable if there is adequate protection for women who come forward," said Fitzgerald, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, at APA's 2003 Annual Convention.
These cases often cost plaintiffs more in anguish and humiliation than the monetary award they receive for damages, she added. This is because victims must endure a discovery process in which intimate details of their personal lives are often publicized in open court and their characters are questioned, Fitzgerald said.
She stressed the importance of developing professional guidelines for forensic evaluations that are used in harassment legislation. Furthermore, Fitzgerald urged clinicians who provide psychological evaluations in sexual harassment trials to be experts on sexual victimization. She also encouraged psychologists to educate attorneys, judges and other psychologists on the impact of sexual harassment on its victims.
"Those of us who do this work must start to take responsibility for these issues through educational activities for the legal profession and the development of professional guidelines to ensure the integrity of the process," Fitzgerald said.
Also, to ensure a fairer process, Fitzgerald recommended that Congress eliminate damage caps in sexual harassment cases and ban the taxing of discrimination awards so that victims will be properly compensated.
Fitzgerald made the remarks upon accepting APA's Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy Award for her pioneering work on sexual harassment. APA's Committee on Women in Psychology nominated Fitzgerald for the award because of her methodological and theoretical advances in the area, including introducing such statistical techniques as path modeling.
"Louise Fitzgerald's work on sexual harassment has made a real difference in the lives of working women," said Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD, associate executive director of APA's Public Interest Directorate. "She has helped to shape legal and corporate policy and standards. She has done this through methodologically sound scholarly psychological research and professionally conducted consultation."