Jonathan Pilkington's boss wouldn't take no for an answer. • During more than two years as a food runner at an upscale steakhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz., Pilkington says his male supervisor groped, fondled and otherwise sexually harassed him more than a dozen times.
"It was very embarrassing," Pilkington said. "I felt like I had to do something because the situation was just so bad."
Now Pilkington, a married father of two, is the star witness in a federal lawsuit against Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and one of a growing number of men claiming they are victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
From 1990 to 2009, the percentage of sexual harassment claims filed by men has doubled from 8 to 16 percent of all claims, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Women still file the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment claims with the EEOC and state and local agencies. But lawyers at the commission say they've noticed the increase in complaints by men — more than 2,000 were filed in 2009 out of about 12,700 cases.
Male claims made up about 12 percent of all cases a decade ago, but the percentage has continued to rise even as the overall number of sexual harassment complaints has declined.
"It's certainly possible that there's more sexual harassment of men going on, but it could just be that more men are coming forward and complaining about it," said Ernest Haffner, an EEOC attorney.
While some cases allege harassment by female supervisors or co-workers, most charges involve men harassing other men. Sometimes it's unwelcome romantic advances. Other times, men are picked on because they are gay, perceived as being gay or not considered masculine enough for the work setting.
In the past, some employers might have shrugged off such antics as "boys will be boys" horseplay.
In Pilkington's case, he was fired — an action he claims was retaliation for his complaints. An EEOC lawsuit on behalf of Pilkington and others is pending. "I think maybe it's just harder for males to come out and file a complaint because of how embarrassing it is," Pilkington said.
"When I talk about it I get this nauseous feeling in my stomach."