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Legal Factors, Extra-Legal Factors, or Changes in the Law? Using Criminal Justice Research to Understand the Resolution of Sexual Harassment Complaints

Sandy Welsh, Myrna Dawson and Annette Nierobisz
Social Problems
Vol. 49, No. 4 (November 2002), pp. 605-623
DOI: 10.1525/sp.2002.49.4.605
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sp.2002.49.4.605
Page Count: 19
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Legal Factors, Extra-Legal Factors, or Changes in the Law? Using Criminal Justice Research to Understand the Resolution of Sexual Harassment Complaints
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Abstract

Much of what is known about how the law operates is based on the criminal justice process. What is less understood is whether legal, extra-legal, and organizational attributes matter for non-criminal justice processes, such as discrimination and employment disputes. It is this general issue that we examine in this paper. We also incorporate how the development of the legal construct of sexual harassment affects case settlement. Our study attempts to overcome the underutilization of theoretical understandings from the sociology of law to study sexual harassment complaints. We examine 267 sexual harassment complaints against corporate respondents or employing organizations handled by the Canadian Human Rights Commission between 1978–1993 to see what factors influence whether a complaint will be dismissed or settled. Our results show that legal, extra-legal, and case processing factors matter for the resolution of complaints. We also find that the development of sexual harassment as a legal concept is central to understanding the settlement of complaints over time. Finally, we conclude that research on civil and human rights processes should incorporate insights from research on criminal justice processes.

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