Legal Issues Surrounding Sexual Harassment Allegations

Recently, a number of sexual harassment and assault allegations have been sweeping the entertainment industry. People in prominent positions, such as Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, have had their employment terminated as these allegations come to light. Criminal defense attorney Paul Cambria spoke to WBEN about this series of allegations and what their legal ramifications might be. The full interview is available on the WBEN website.

Legal ramifications of employment termination

It has often been the case in these recent instances that the accused party is fired shortly after the assault allegations are made public and before substantiating evidence is made available. WBEN asked Mr. Cambria what the legal ramifications of these quick terminations could be, if any. “It depends on the contract,” Mr. Cambria explained. He drew on his own experience overseeing Lipsitz Green’s Los Angeles office, saying, “Especially in California, where these cases are more prevalent in the courts, there are provisions in handbooks and there is a whole procedure—not only for making a complaint, but a procedure for being someone who has a complaint lodged against them.” Mr. Cambria went on to say that “most of the entertainment contracts have a so-called morals clause—a lot of the professional athletes have a morals clause—and that’s obviously what they’re using here to terminate people like (Matt) Lauer.”

Cultural shift

One of the first people to have these allegations leveled against them was Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. When asked if the following allegations against men of similar status could be traced back to those made against Weinstein, Mr. Cambria replied, “I think that it goes to any situation of power. Every one of those individuals had a lot of power.”

Mr. Cambria then explained the types of sexual harassment situations that are commonly seen. “One is a hostile work environment, where there’s unwanted sexual advances. The other is,” he said, “where people are punished or they’re passed over […] for refusal to engage in sexual conduct. They’re discriminated against by some kind of superior who’s in a position of authority.”

WBEN asked Mr. Cambria if the perceived shift in the culture surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace translates to a shift in how these cases would be defended in court. “We have been involved in cases like this for a very long time because, as I say, we have an office in California that I oversee,” Mr. Cambria responded. “There are ways of bringing [these cases], there are ways of defending them. They’re not that different than any other kind of legal case where, once you have that kind of case, there’s a certain set of things you do to either prosecute or defend a particular case. There’s a big body of law out there for these types of cases,” he explained.

Credibility of claims

When asked if these cases could cause more victims to come forward, Mr. Cambria answered, “I think we’ve seen that, and the thing that you have to then be careful about is a number of these cases also have a civil side where people are suing for damages, money, and so on.”

“What makes it difficult for the legal process,” he explained, “is to weed out the good ones and the bad ones. And there’s a whole body of law dealing with that, as well. It’s obvious now that there’s going to be a lot of examination across the country of cases like this.”

Mr. Cambria also told WBEN that it boosts the credibility of a claim when the claimant is not seeking monetary damages. “That’s the kind of thing you have to look for: whether or not somebody just has a financial motive or whether or not it’s a genuine case,” he said. “Obviously finances are not important; integrity, dignity, and so on are more important.”

WBEN asked how often women, rather than men, are at the center of these controversies. “We just had a legislative representative from Cheektowaga who was accused of sexual harassment—a woman,” he responded, “so these things happen both ways. And, again, it depends. If you’re someone in power, it wouldn’t matter what gender you are. If you’re engaging in misconduct, these are the kind of cases that are going to come forward.”

About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.

The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.