More and more men report sexual harassment by men

Published May 5, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - The comments made Marcus Dixon, a forklift operator at Kane's Furniture, uncomfortable.

Dixon's supervisor frequently made sexual remarks and jokes, Dixon said, including one about giving the supervisor oral sex beneath a dinner table.

By February 2006, 10 months after he was hired, Dixon had grown weary of it, so he went to the warehouse director and complained about the supervisor, a man named Michael Peterson.

"It was embarrassing, " said Dixon, 22, of St. Petersburg. "I didn't like his comments and jokes. And before I went to the other supervisors, I told him I didn't like it and he continued on with it."

More and more men are reporting sexual harassment, increasingly in cases where one man tries to humiliate another by questioning his masculinity.

In 1992, 958 men filed sexual harassment charges, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last year the number was 1, 843. Statewide, there were 36 sexual harassment claims filed by men in 1992 and 146 last year.

The agency does not record the sex of the alleged harassers but experts say they have observed anecdotal evidence of an increase in male-on-male sexual harassment, including more cases of a "gender stereotyping" type of sexual harassment.

"They harass their targets because they don't conform to societally accepted notions of masculinity, " said EEOC senior attorney adviser Ernest Haffner in Washington, D.C.

Until 1998, courts were divided on male-on-male sexual harassment. But that year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it a violation of civil rights. Since then there have been several settlements.

In 1999, a packing company in Long Prairie, Minn., paid $1.9-million to settle a class-action lawsuit by male meatpacking employees who said they were harassed. And Burt Chevrolet and LGC Management, a Colorado auto chain, paid $500, 000 in 2000 to settle claims by 10 former salesmen who said they were harassed with coarse sexual jokes.

Dixon says he lost his job after he complained to his supervisors about the harassment by Peterson, who told Dixon he had a girlfriend. Dixon filed a complaint with the EEOC and is suing Kane's Furniture.

Kane's employees have filed sexual harassment claims in the past, including a woman on the sales force at the Clearwater store who said male employees called her names, made threats and shoved her. A jury in 1995 awarded her $100, 000.

Kane's lawyer could not be reached for comment on the Dixon case, and Peterson, reached at Kane's warehouse, declined to comment.

But in an unemployment hearing involving Dixon, Kane's human resources director said Dixon was fired for his reaction to being trained for a new job.

Dixon says that when he complained about the harassment, the warehouse director suggested Dixon move to a new area of the warehouse. But Dixon did not want to move.

The next time he came to work, Dixon said a new supervisor told him he had a new job, moving furniture to much higher locations in the warehouse. He learned of a rule that if he damaged the sprinkler system two or three times, he could be suspended. He felt he was being set up for failure.

Dixon says he told his new supervisor, Steve Phillips, that he wanted to speak to the warehouse director again. The conversation degenerated, with both men claiming the other cursed. At the unemployment hearing, Phillips said he had no idea about the sexual harassment charge and he fired Dixon for failure to do the job.

Dixon's lawyer, Richard E. Wolfe, said "he should not have been transferred. It was a retaliatory-type transfer. And he wasn't insubordinate. They were looking for a reason to fire him."

Dixon said his situation at Kane's and the job loss sunk him into depression and affected his marriage. He and his wife have four children. Dixon recently got a new job with St. Petersburg's Recreation Department.

"He was so down and out about it, " said his wife, Nikishia Dixon, 28, a teacher. "He did so well there, and they told him all the time how good he was. And just like that, that fast and that quick, you know, it was gone."

Times wires and Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.