This is a legal thing that means, in a nutshell, that the victim’s experience carries more weight than the intent of the harasser.
So, for example, if Joe, who is a well-known office flirt, continues to make suggestive comments to Mary, even after Mary tells him to knock it off, it should be irrelevant that most women love Joe because he brings them cupcakes and tells them they look pretty.
The issue at hand needs to be the impact Joe’s behavior has had on Mary.
You see, people use tons of ways they justify their actions. The most dysfunctional systems of workplace behavior operate under the assumption that what they do is OK, and those within who have benefited because of those systems have a vested interest in maintaining them. So if one person speaks up to say there is a problem, but most everyone else goes along with the status quo, the perpetrator (and those around him) will invariably say, “the problem must not be with me, but with the one that misunderstood my intentions.”
Even if you think your intentions were good, if the impact of your actions are that your victim(s) are seeking medical or mental health treatment, are being denied raises and promotions, are being ostracized by peers, and end up leaving jobs they love, then the problem isn’t the victim, asshole. You’re the problem. And if the workplace protects you instead of dealing with your shit, then they become the problem too.
For the workplace that continues to ignore problems of workplace discrimination, bad things happen- like jail sentences, lawsuits, and ruined reputations that take years to rebuild.
You’d think that alone would be enough to encourage employers to take matters into hand. And yet, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that in 2014 over 88,000 charges of workplace discrimination were filed with that agency. The state of Florida had the astounding number of over 7500 charges filed in 2014; only Texas had a higher number of charges filed that year.
If you feel you may have been discriminated against in the workplace, the EEOC has an assessment tool that may help you determine if that is the case, and will guide you as to how you can file a complaint. You may be required to file a complaint with EEOC before filing a lawsuit.
And, as always, I strongly recommend you at least consult with an attorney.
FYI: EEOC posts stats about a number of things. For instance, in 2013, the median salary of male state/local government workers was $48, 821. The median salary for female state/local workers is $42,264.
In the state of Florida, the median salary for a male state employee in 2013 was $47,837 while for women it was only $43,325.
Pretty shitty, huh?