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Sexual Harassment & the Legal Industry

For members of a conservative industry that — literally — wrote the rulebook on sexual harassment, law firms need to be ready for a day of reckoning that seems inescapable.

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While sexual harassment is not generally categorized as a “crime,” when it moves from suggestive remarks to things such as unwanted touching, the civil offense of sexual harassment can quickly become the crimes of assault, forcible touching, sexual battery or even rape. An employee’s criminal liability for such acts has traditionally not been imputed to the business organization for which he works, but that does not mean it could not happen as some states have laws on the books that impose criminal liability on business organizations when a criminal offense is “engaged in … by a high managerial agent acting within the scope of his employment and in behalf of the corporation” (NY Penal Law §20.20). With such laws on the books, business entities would be well advised to implement and enforce sexual misconduct policies that protect their employees, thereby protecting the business itself from potential criminal, as well as civil, liability.

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