Hippocrates (or the Pythagoran writer of the oath) was well aware that patients or their caretakers frequently “fall in love” with their physicians  and openly express the desire for an affair. But experience shows that often patients/caretakers are psychologically vulnerable, and later regret their actions. That is why the Hippocratic oath expressly forbids physicians from having sexual relationships with patients or with anyone living in their household: because even 2500 years ago, it was recognized that such relationships were ethically tainted, even if both people “agree” to the affair.

In today’s workplace, if women are to have equal opportunity to use their skills, they need to be able to do so in a workplace where they do not have to put up with a sexualized environment in the workplace, be it repeated dirty jokes, “roaming hands”, or (more seriously) sleeping with one’s supervisor/employer in order to keep one’s job.

Hence Sexual Harassment laws.

From the EEOC website:

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

This brings us to David Letterman.

He has not had a love affair with an equal: he admits to having sex with several of his employees.

Ah, but now his “defenders” say “they asked for it”.

Well, maybe…HOW DO YOU KNOW?

True, many women agree to seduction, and indeed sometimes even institute the sexual encounter. And, of course, some women (and men) benefit from their actions.

But did you know that if a woman (or man) is promoted because they agree to having sex with their employer, not only can they sue, but all their co workers, who did not get that promotion or other advantages can sue under the EEOC law?

Letterman’s blackmailers will probably be prosecuted, but  both Letterman and his employers could find that the problem won’t stop there:

.David Lande, a New York City-based civil attorney whose cases have included sexual harassment, said Letterman presumably was in a position of power with a voice in hiring, firing and promotions.

“So, to the extent that he had control over these factors with the women he was involved with, he could be subject to liability,” he said. “I am sure CBS lawyers are reviewing the matter very carefully.”

Such lawsuits could cost his employers, past and present, big money.

Not only is sexual harassment illegal, it can also cost big employers lots of money. In 2005, Ford (F) agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle sexual harassment charges and to pay up to $10 million to train employees to prevent sexual harassment. Lowe’s Companies (LOW) paid $1.72 million to settle such charges made by three employees. Many other examples suggest that settlement amounts are often at least $1 million.

How frequent is sexual harassment in the workplace?

In Fiscal Year 2008, EEOC received 13,867 charges of sexual harassment. 15.9% of those charges were filed by males. EEOC resolved 11,731 sexual harassment charges in FY 2008 and recovered $47.4 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).

So, although David Letterman’s on screen apology and joking may get him a “pass” from the jaded audience, he still faces more problems.

I suggest the CBS lawyers contact all of those he remembers having sexual relationships with (and all of those who he didn’t have a relationship and felt that they were passed over unfairly for promotions or raises for that reason), and pay them not to sue.

Alas, if he “gets away with it” in public opinion, the feminist movement will have suffered another setback for women’s rights in the workplace.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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