Manufacturing Operations: Sexual Harassment, Morality, and Frontline Employees.

Author:Soni, Ramesh G.


The popular literature from the past 30 years is replete with stories of sexual harassment and court cases (for example, Tuttle, 1990; Anderson, 1993; McCoy, 2017, Scheiber & Creswell, 2017). Lately, the "#MeToo" slogan has sparked an anti-sexual harassment movement. Interestingly, the phrase was coined by Tarana Burkey in 2006 to support mainly women of color who were survivors of sexual assault (Langone, 2018). However, when actress Ashley Judd accused media mogul Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the deluge of the #MeToo social media campaign started devouring mainly high profile media personalities and politicians in the USA. The movements "#MeToo" and "#Timesup"--that was started on January 1, 2018--have created an awareness about the high prevalence of sexual harassment and assaults across a variety of industries. However, there is very limited discussion about sexual harassment that has existed in somewhat labor-intensive, male-dominated industries involving low-skilled labor force. This paper attempts to bring this issue to the fore.

The paper first presents a brief discussion of sex-based discrimination and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Next, a brief literature review is presented on leadership, ethics, and sexual harassment. Following which a trend analysis of sexual harassment data is presented. Thereafter, a discussion of sexual harassment in labor-intensive industries and related operations management issues is presented. The last section of the paper presents the conclusion and future research potentials.


Title VII of 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Sexual harassment, considered a form of sexual discrimination, falls under the purview of Title VII ( Even though the Civil Rights act was passed in 1964, it was not until 1980 when Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) first stated that sexual harassment is sex discrimination covered under the Civil Rights Act and issued guidelines for "establishing criteria for determining when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment" ( Further, EEOC defined "the circumstances under which an employer may be held liable suggesting affirmative steps an employer should take to prevent sexual harassment" ( Finally, in 1986, in a landmark decision on the case of Meritor Savings Bank vs. Vinson, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that sexual harassment is illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Taylor, 1986). Taylor summarized the court decision by stating that severe and pervasive sexual harassment creates a hostile workplace, even when "the unwelcome sexual demands are not linked to concrete employment benefits."

It is important to note that sexual harassment is not just limited to an egregious demand for sex for continued employment but can begin with joking around in bad taste (Tuttle, 1990). EEOC's webpage describes sexual harassment as: "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment." Sexual harassment, as recognized by the courts under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, can include two types: 1) quid pro quo, where sexual favors are sought in exchange for benefits or avoidance of detriments, and 2) hostile work environment, where sexual harassment is severe and widespread, creating a threatening work environment ( Although most of the allegations are made by women against men, the reverse situations also exist. Just recently, Dr. Nimrod Reitman accused his female doctoral advisor, Dr. Avital Ronell, of the Title IX violation and New York University's internal investigation found the world-famous professor responsible for sexual harassment (Greenberg, 2018). Another recent case is the news of the Italian actress Asia Argento being accused of sexually harassing Jimmy Bennett--an actor 20-years her junior.

Literature Review: Leadership, Ethics, and Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment continues to be an ethical problem in many organizations, along with sexual discrimination and unequal opportunities, which creates a hostile working environment, especially for women (Crain & Heischmidt, 1995). Furthermore, when the moral intensity of the abuse is minimized, it ends up significantly costing employees and employers because of the physical and psychological trauma experienced by individuals who are targets of sexual harassment (O'Leary-Kelly et al., 2001).This takes us to the study of ethics in leadership, which is so full of contradictions and confusion that the more we learn the less we are sure of what we know about ethics related to leadership, especially in business management. Ethical relativism, where society members collectively define what is acceptable/unacceptable, argues that morality is relative to the norms of one's culture. This is perhaps because humans across time and space vary with respect to what they value, what they consider right or wrong, good or bad in any given situation. Therefore, the morals and values that guide human decision making as individuals and in groups have become increasingly challenging and divisive because of conflicting values and greater stress on accountability faced by leaders today in both non-profit public organizations and for-profit organizations (Van Wart, 2013). Just as Trethewey and Goodall (2007) state that by tracing the evolution of ethical principles through history, probably, we can get a better understanding of ethical issues related to leadership over time.

In the Western world, according to Bass and Steidlmeier (1999), ethics as a scholarly pursuit began with Socrates...

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