It might feel as if workplace sexual predators are finally getting their due. After New York Attorney General Letitia James meticulously investigated sexual harassment claims against Governor Andrew Cuomo and released a scathing report containing evidence that he harassed 11 women, he resigned from office effective August 24.
Cuomo’s resignation came shortly after celebrity chef Mario Batali and his former partner Joe Bastianich reached a $600,000 settlement with James over allegations that they created a workplace rife with sexual harassment, much of it alleged to have been committed by Batali himself. James secured a similar settlement last year with Ken Friedman, the owner of the now-defunct Manhattan restaurant the Spotted Pig, for $240,000 plus a share of his future profits. A month before the Batali story broke, Fox News agreed to pay the New York City Commission on Human Rights $1 million as a result of the sexual harassment that female employees said they experienced at the hands of cofounder Roger Ailes and host Bill O’Reilly—the largest civil penalty the commission has ever imposed.
These actions, and their attached dollar figures, offer some semblance of justice for the victims, particularly in industries like restaurants, where sexual harassment has long run rampant. But diving into the details shows that they get nowhere close to making the victims whole.
The Batali settlement will be shared among at least 20 people, which means they’ll get about $30,000 each, some of which will go toward their legal fees. Similar math applies to the Friedman settlement: It will be shared among 11 former employees, netting them less than $22,000 each (plus whatever the profit sharing might reap). If the attorney general’s office finds other victims in either case, more people will divide the money.
But the cost of enduring sexual harassment in the workplace is much, much higher than these figures. Most victims face retaliation when they speak up, losing hours and pay, promotions and bonuses. They’re frequently pushed out or fired, and even those who don’t report harassment often find themselves quitting their jobs to escape an abuser. Their job loss doesn’t result in just short-term income loss; they also usually lose their health insurance and other benefits like retirement plans. A forced job or even career change typically means the victims have to start over at lower positions and pay. They may need to spend money getting credentials or training to enter a new field.
All those costs add up—and quickly. A new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Time’s Up—whose chairwoman just resigned after James’s report exposed the work she’d done to counsel Cuomo during his sexual harassment scandal—interviewed 16 people who suffered sexual harassment at work and detailed the financial costs they faced. A woman working in a well-paid, male-dominated field like construction can suffer a lifetime cost of $1.3 million. But even someone earning lower wages in fast food still loses over $125,600. Some of the people interviewed remained unemployed for as long as five years after their sexual harassment.
This is some of what Batali’s employees endured. James’s investigation found that women were passed over for promotions and kept out of desirable roles. Brianna Pintens, a former server at Del Posto, said in a statement when the settlement was announced, “I can say that my time working for [Batali and Bastianich] permanently tarnished my goals and passions for hospitality.” Women at the Spotted Pig who reported sexual harassment were often fired or blackballed from the industry, James found. Natalie Saibel, one of the women sharing in the Friedman settlement, was fired for minor offenses after reporting his sexual aggression toward her.
Trish Nelson, one of the Spotted Pig servers who was sexually harassed by Friedman, told The New York Times, “Even though $20,000 over five years is laughable to most, it feels like $20 million to women like us.” It is indeed monumental to have abusers made to pay when so few victims feel emboldened to even report sexual harassment, let alone pursue claims, and rarely see any form of justice.
But we can’t lose sight of the fact that, even with the progress we’ve made holding harassers to account, we still have so much farther to go before victims are no longer the ones shouldering the burden. Women who come forward are often accused of seeking fame and a payout. It’s worth remembering that they are still the ones who end up losing the most.