These are not idle concerns. They may actually impede the current efforts to obtain true justice for sexual harassment victims. For example, an employer otherwise willing to pay
a specific amount to settle may instead offer only a lesser amount, if deductions for the payment and related fees are not available.
Various articles discussing these new tax provisions have recently appeared; for an informative review of these provisions and the difficulties they present, see a recent
blog post by Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp partner Jeffrey Davine, “#MeToo Can Be #Costly,” which can be found at the firm’s website,
Secondly, about 25 years ago, long before concern about sexual harassment was elevated to the level of the past few months, I mediated a date-rape case in which questions
relating to confidentiality were the primary element in achieving settlement. The parties were two college students who had known each other for some time. Their circle of
friends would sometimes gather and consume substantial amounts of alcohol, on the occasion in question beginning on a Saturday afternoon and continuing into the evening.
The defendant acknowledged that at some point during that time sexual activity had occurred, but asserted that not only did the plaintiff consent, but further, that it was
she who had initiated that activity. The plaintiff, on the other hand, contended that she was so completely inebriated that in essence she had no capacity to consent, let
alone knowingly, intelligently initiate the activity. She thus took the position that given her condition, the defendant should not have engaged in any such activity with
her, regardless of whether she did in fact initiate it.
To me, they both appeared credible. My sense was that the defendant felt badly not only because he found himself a defendant in a lawsuit, but also because he was sincerely
troubled by the fact that the situation had resulted in considerable distress for the plaintiff. For her part the plaintiff obviously felt aggrieved, and in particular was
extremely disturbed by a sense of shame and embarrassment. Settlement efforts were thus focused on addressing that resulting sense of shame and embarrassment. This was
accomplished by preparation of an agreed written statement, drafted at the mediation, which described the factual background, and in which the defendant expressly acknowledged
that under the circumstances, he should not have proceeded with any sexual activity, regardless of whether or not that activity was initiated by the plaintiff. But the critical,
necessary element for resolution was that it was expressly agreed that this statement would not be confidential. The idea was that the plaintiff could disseminate it as she wished,
in her own discretion. While the defendant also agreed to pay a relatively modest sum of money (these were not wealthy people), that was not the plaintiff’s primary interest in
pursuing the case. In mediation the objective is to satisfy, to the greatest extent possible, the true interests of the parties, and in this case the plaintiff’s primary interest
was not monetary, but rather to relieve her acute sense of shame and embarrassment, and by the same token, to renew her sense of self-esteem and also her standing in the community
of friends the parties shared. She believed this could be accomplished by the defendant’s express written acknowledgement described above, which she in turn could distribute to
people with knowledge of what had occurred.
The concerns currently being expressed about confidentiality seem to focus on the harm which results from confidential settlements, which tend to conceal from public discourse
the extensive problem of sexual harassment, and thus impede meaningful discussion of how to address it. The case described above demonstrates how, in addition, non-confidentiality
may be explicitly utilized as a significant and in a given case essential aspect of the resolution of sexual harassment claims.
Questions (and suggestions) are always welcome. Feel free to contact me directly at the telephone number or email address below, and of course if you wish to schedule a mediation,
contact me or simply contact my Case Manager at ARC, Ms. Nicole Bethurum, (310) 284-8224, email@example.com
Peter J. Marx, (310) 442-0052, firstname.lastname@example.org
© Peter J. Marx, 2018