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CIA sexual harassment cases could lead to spy vs. spy claims

Being a spy is undoubtedly a dangerous profession, but, according to reports coming out of the Central Intelligence Agency, fighting off the amorous advances of the boss might be a female spy's greatest challenge. The CIA is increasing its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy against workplace sexual harassment by agency supervisors after complaints from female workers assigned to duty stations in war zones.

According to the reports, female CIA workers were subjected to conduct ranging from sexually oriented jokes and offensive sexual comments to unwanted sexual advances by male supervisors. In response to the complaints, the CIA director has appointed an investigator to handle complaints coming from workers in war zone offices.

Businesses in the private sector have been forced to become proactive in addressing sexual harassment because of lawsuits awarding damages, including punitive damages, to victims. This, however, was not always the case. In decades past, federal law allowed victims of sexual harassment to sue employers, but damages were limited to back pay or lost wages and reinstatement for a victim terminated from his or her job.

Today, thanks to a 1991 amendment to the federal Civil Rights Act, damages awarded to victims who file sexual harassment claims can include emotional pain and suffering and mental anguish in addition to lost wages and back pay. If a court determines that an employer acted with malice or with reckless indifference to what was occurring, it may award punitive damages to the victim.

Whether the victim is a spy or a clerk in a retail store, sexual harassment is illegal. Federal and state laws are in place to help victims of harassment. Employment law attorneys can be good resources regarding the rights of affected people and the compensation to which they may be entitled.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "CIA cracks down on sexual harassment in its ranks," Ken Dilanian, July 4, 2012

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