Arkansas: What Are They Doing to Improve Sexual Harassment Laws?

The effort to achieve equal civil rights for all people began in the Reconstruction period of the late 19th century. Many would say the fight for equal rights and recognition of equality began hundreds of years ago. Given that groups of people have historically been marginalized based on their skin color, gender, religion, and other characteristics, it is a battle that must be won. That said, social changes have taken place and laws have been passed that recognize the lack of equality and take steps to correct it.

Often, the people who see the need for change are members of a marginalized group, and their voice already has less power. That is why change happens slowly. In 1964, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed, federal courts made it clear that equality matters. Social changes since 1964 have precipitated updates to Title VII to make it more inclusive of recognized groups on the margins of equality. Some states have followed Title VII with laws of their own, including Arkansas

Arkansas Civil Rights Act

The Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993 is an employment law prohibiting discrimination that is based on gender in workplaces, as it relates to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. In 2003, Arkansas courts ruled that the spirit of the Civil Rights Act could be extended to sexual harassment in workplaces (Island v. Buena Vista Resort). While the Arkansas law does prohibit discrimination based on gender as it relates to pregnancy-related conditions, the phrasing of the law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment. Because of that, Arkansas courts use the findings of federal harassment claims, under Title VII, as a basis for trying workplace sexual harassment complaints.

Workers in Arkansas, whether in Little Rock or Salem, may find the law seems blurry because of this reliance on Title VII and because their own state law does not expressly say that sexual harassment is illegal in workplaces. When laws overlap, it seems like more protection would be afforded. The laws do complement each other, but the overlap also adds confusion and legal technicalities to sexual harassment complaint cases. 

Definition of Sexual Harassment

The first thing to understand is exactly what sexual harassment as a form of workplace discrimination is. Arkansas workers must rely on the definition implied in Title VII—sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical behavior in a sexual context. 

If You Have Been a Victim

Victims of sexual harassment in a workplace are required to take steps to stop the harassment and to protect themselves from further harassment. It may not seem fair that responsibility falls on victims, but calling out a harasser can give victims a sense of regained personal power. However, the legal system is complex and the laws overlap. You may need legal advice. If you have reviewed online information about your rights and are confused, a lawyer can help.

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