Sexual Harassment in Elementary School? Really?


Seventeen-year-old high school senior, Sam McNair’s hopes for attending college next year came crashing down this week.  Bad grades?   Drugs?  Weapons?  No, McNair hugged his teacher and received a one-year suspension for sexual harassment.   His alleged harassing hug was captured on surveillance video, and it looks pretty innocent to me.  Although, McNair’s teacher alleged his cheek and lips touched her neck, he denies any such contact.  McNair’s mom says their family always hugs, and McNair insists he was just trying to brighten the teacher’s day.

Sexual harassment allegations against students are not uncommon.  Last week, Hunter Yelton, a 6-year-old boy was suspended by a Colorado school for sexual harassment – he kissed a female classmate on the cheek.  The boy’s mother said the two children liked each other, and that the kiss was not unwelcome.  Should children be charged with sexual harassment?

Courts have found that, just as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects the workplace from sexual harassers, sexual harassment at school is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  Although Title IX is typically invoked in connection with equality in men’s and women’s school sports activities, more recently it has been used to ensure that a school provides an environment that is free from sexual harassment.

As a result, small children are now facing accusations of sexual harassment.  Another 6- year old boy was found in violation of the school’s sexual harassment policy when two of his fingers reached under a female classmate’s waistband to touch the skin of her back.  The principal suspended the boy from school for three days for violating the school’s sexual harassment policy. In a newspaper interviews the boy’s mom said he is too young to understand what the word ‘sexual’ means.  When a nine-year-old in North Carolina was suspended for calling his teacher “cute,” the principal labeled this behavior sexual harassment.

I get that McNair’s teacher doesn’t want to be touched by her students, and she probably wants McNair to learn boundaries.  I’m certainly not suggesting she should tolerate behavior that she finds offensive.  So let’s teach him some boundaries.  But labeling McNair’s behavior sexual harassment and suspending him for a year just doesn’t make sense.

For sexual harassment in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”  But on its website, the EEOC clarifies that “the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

But school is not like the workplace, and applying a term intended for the workplace to label behavior in elementary or high school is just plain misleading. High schools often encourage dating between students, while workplaces typically frown upon dating a colleague.  At school-sanctioned dances and proms, students grasp their dates in a hug-like embrace while slow dancing.  Again, doesn’t happen so much in the working world.  Welcome behavior becomes somewhat more murky in this environment.  The definition of sexual harassment at school would have to differ significantly from that of harassment at work.

I propose we discard the “sexual harassment” label in school for something more appropriate like “unwelcome contact.”   Not only does this label fit the behavior more appropriately, but it won’t lead to confusion about what constitutes sexual harassment when the children later enter the working world.

On a brighter note, after a barrage of media attention, the Colorado school dropped the sexual harassment accusations against Hunter Yelton (the 6-year-old who kissed a classmate last week).  His behavior was much more appropriately re-labeled “misconduct.”

As for McNair’s year suspension, I hope his school also recognizes that the punishment needs to fit the crime. Good luck Sam!

Can Attractive Women Be Friends with Married Men?

Iowa Woman Is Fired Because Boss’s Spouse Thought She Was A Threat

melissa nelson

Photo of Melissa Nelson from

Can attractive women have married male friends?  It seems the answer is no.  Face facts, spouses just don’t like it when their significant others seek out the friendship of an attractive member of the opposite sex.  In the workplace, where connections are critical to career success lack of friends can put a career on the slow track.  Unfortunately, attractive women may have more difficulty establishing these important connections at work, particularly to married men.  Often spousal jealousy is to blame.

In a recent case of extreme spousal jealousy, dental assistant Melissa Nelson lost her job when her boss’s spouse decided Nelson “was a big threat” to their marriage.  Nelson had worked for her former employer, James Knight, for ten years, and Knight reported that Nelson was one of the best dental assistants he ever had.  So, why fire her?   Ultimately, it was Knight’s wife, Jeanne Knight, who had enough and ordered him to fire Nelson.  Jeanne felt that the “irresistibly attractive” Nelson was a threat to their marriage.

Nelson had done nothing wrong.  She considered Knight a friend and father figure, and denies ever flirting with him or seeking any type of romantic or sexual relationship with him.  She was fired because she was attractive, and her boss’s wife thought she was a threat.

Often women’s lack of parity with men in the workplace is blamed on women’s exclusion from the old boys network.  Yet it’s not always the old boys that are excluding them.  The wives of the old boys are often to blame for keeping women out.

So what are women to do?  The biggest blunder cross-sex friends make is trying to keep their friendship a secret.  Perhaps admirably, they attempt secrecy so that their spouse won’t get jealous.  Unfortunately that secrecy implies there is more to the relationship than a mere friendship.  Knight’s wife became particularly jealous when she found that her husband had been texting Nelson.  The texts involved updates on the kids’ activities and other innocuous matters.  Stuff you would text to a friend.  If Knight had regularly shared these texts with his wife, perhaps she would have been less suspicious of their friendship.  Instead, she discovered the texting on her own.  Then Nelson was fired.

Nelson sued for sex discrimination, and her case went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court.  After all, Nelson claimed, if she had been a man, she would still be employed.   Knight countered that Nelson was not fired because of her gender, indeed, he hired another woman to replace her.  Instead, Knight claimed that Nelson was fired because she represented a threat to his marriage.  In July 2013, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court sided with Knight, ruling that no sex discrimination had occurred.

I guess the wives of the justices told them to vote that way.

Pretty Soldiers Not Good For Army PR

female soldier

Pretty women send the wrong message.  That’s the opinion of Col. Lynette Arnhart who’s job it is to figure out how to best integrate women into combat roles.  Arnhart composed the following pearls of wisdom in an e-mail about photos included in army PR:  “In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead…  There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty),” Arnhart said.

In addition to the obvious inappropriateness of this message, it’s also incorrect.   In general, research indicates that attractive people of both genders are perceived as more intelligent, more likely to be hired, and typically earn more money than their less attractive counterparts.  However, attractive women do not fare as well at work as their attractive male counterparts.  Stereotypes like those perpetuated by Arnhart are partially to blame.  Given Arnhart’s lack of competence in this area, she must be beautiful – using her own logic, that is.

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