Vermont lawmakers take on sexual harassment, hope to empower victims to step forward

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In wake of the #MeToo movement, lawmakers are taking on sexual harassment in Vermont workplaces.

Representative Sarah Copeland-Hanzas of Bradford is the bill’s lead sponsor. She is hoping it empowers everyone in the state to say no thanks to unwanted sexual advances. It’s an effort that lawmakers from all parties are getting behind.

“We’re here today to say to every Vermonter, we’ve got your back… A few forced resignations will do very little to protect the average factory worker, restaurant server or store clerk,” said Copeland-Hanzas, D- Orange-2.

The bill would offer victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, assistance and protection. Agreements that prevent employees from disclosing sexual harassment would be prohibited. It would also eliminate settlements that could make an accuser vulnerable to losing their job.

“People are terrified of bringing forward a complaint within their own business or going to the government,” said Julio Thompson, Civil Rights Unit director for the Attorney General.

Thompson says the unit investigates “numerous” complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace every year. He says the bill would substantially lower the barriers for people to report.

Thompson said, “So if we receive information that a workplace may not be friendly to workers, we would have the authority without naming the individual and pursuing a charge.”

According to the Vermont ACLU, 30,000 harassment claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016, 83% were filed by women.

“It is time we strengthen our laws, public education and our resources so that no Vermonter has to say ‘me too’ ever again,” said Representative Jill Krowinski, D- House Majority Leader.

Lawmakers Thursday spoke not only as elected officials but as employees, employers and parents.

“I want to make sure Vermont is the kind of place where my daughters and all of my daughters can say ‘knock it off’ and that somebody has their back,” said Representative Don Turner, R- House Minority Leader.

The bill was formally introduced on the House floor Thursday.

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