Sexual Harassment Litigation: a Road to Re-victimization or Recovery?

Angela K. Lawson*, Louise F. Fitzgerald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Various aspects of the judicial process have been hypothesized as damaging to sexual harassment plaintiffs, though limited research has been conducted that actually examines this hypothesis. We examined data from a large sample of women who participated in a class action lawsuit alleging workplace sexual harassment and discrimination (n = 1218) and another sample of similarly situated women who opted out of litigation (n = 465, non-litigants). We then followed the litigants for 5 years. This study takes an initial look at some of the variables theorized to play a role in the psychological outcomes of both harassment and subsequent litigation. Both the severity of harassment and participation/persistence in the litigation process were related to psychological outcomes at each of three assessments across a 5-year period; the frequency and severity of harassment, as well as plaintiffs’ cognitive appraisals of their situation, appeared to have the strongest relationship to psychological harm. Results of multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) revealed that participation and persistence in litigation played a consistent role in psychological outcomes across time, over and above the impact of harassment itself. However, litigation did not appear to be the cause of psychological outcomes as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology, in particular, was the result of the original harassment experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)216-229
Number of pages14
JournalPsychological Injury and Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Litigation
  • PTSD
  • Psychological
  • Recovery
  • Sexual harassment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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