Firms say their sexual harassment policies work well Companies say they take complaints seriously.

October 15, 1991|By Georgia C. Marudas | Georgia C. Marudas,Evening Sun Staff

Companies operating in Maryland say they take complaints of sexual harassment seriously and believe their existing policies work well.

The issue of sexual harassment has been in the forefront of the news as a result of the charges leveled against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas by his former employee, Anita Hill.

"We feel we've set up an environment where employees feel they can come forward," said Peggy Mulloy, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

Legally, sexual harassment is considered a form of employment discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Under guidelines issued by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct that involves an exchange -- an employee submits to the demands in order to get or keep a job or a raise, a promotion, overtime, work assignment, etc. -- or interferes with the worker's performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

In a January decision, for instance, a federal appeals court in Florida ruled that nude pinups in the workplace were illegal sexual harassment.

Mulloy said that an annual letter sent to all of BG&E's 9,500 employees since 1985 outlines the board scope of behavior considered sexual harassment, including sexual jokes, and warns against its consequences.

She said the policy is outlined in the handbook given every worker and manuals given supervisors. The topic also is covered in mandatory training sessions for supervisors and BG&E has personnel trained to handle complaints.

Mulloy declined to reveal how many complaints are filed annually, but said BG&E did not have any plans to change the policy.

"We're very satisfied with the policy. It's monitored closely. It works well," she said.

Henry H. Von Spreckelsen, a Bethlehem Steel spokesman, said the steelmaker has a "very encompassing" policy that bars any type of harassment. He said Bethlehem periodically brings the policy to employees' attention, with the most recent memo issued in March.

"We make clear that our policy goes beyond sexual harassment," he said, adding that Bethlehem forbids harassment based on national origin, race, religion, ethnic group, physical or mental handicap and veteran status as well as gender.

A spokesman for Martin Marietta said the aerospace giant takes a tough stance against sexual harassment and saw no need to change what it sees as an effective program.

"We for a lot of years have been very aware of the problem," he said. "Our program has been very pro-active, with seminars and refresher courses."

"We just will not tolerate it and have not tolerated it," he said. "We have terminated people, though not recently."

Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins University, said the Homewood institution handles two to five complaints of sexual harassment a year. These include complaints among students as well as against faculty or other staff.

"We give it the highest priority," O'Shea said. Penalties can range from termination to suspension to a salary cut, reprimand or counseling, he said, or, in the case of students, expulsion.

A Hopkins memo issued last year warns faculty and staff that sexual advances or other forms of harassment, including linking sexual favors to employment or grades, would be considered "serious misconduct which will lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. . . ."

"At this point we believe our response is adequate," O'Shea said. "There is no reason to revisit the policy."

Carol Pearson, a spokeswoman for the Hopkins health institutions, could not say how many complaints of sexual harassment were received, but said there were no plans to change the policy.

One of Baltimore's largest law firms, Venable, Baetjer & Howard, includes a statement on sexual harassment in its employee handbook and trains supervisors to recognize sexual harassment and to be sensitive to complaints.

Jana Carey, a labor lawyer and a partner in the firm, said the statement says the firm will "not condone or tolerate harassment of employments in regard to race, color, sex or sexual orientation." The policy applies to co-workers, supervisors and third parties over which the firm has control, she said.

The handbook tells employees who believe that they are harassed that they should report incidents to their supervisors, director of personnel, executive director or office administrator.

"I think the one we have is adequate protection under the law," Carey said, who said the firm has no plans to change its policies.

Meryl Burgin, human relations counsel for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, said that since last January she has been conducting seminars for managers and supervisors that include a segment on sexual harassment, and work is being completed on a written policy that will be distributed to all employees.

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