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Clear messages sent on sexual harassment tolerance

Attitudes about sexual harassment are changing across the U.S. From Wisconsin polling places to the boardroom of one of America's biggest corporations, it's clear that tolerance of sexual harassment in the workplace is lower than ever.

Last week, Green Bay Rep. Staush Gruszynski lost his bid for re-election in a landslide after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a staffer at a bar.

The staffer said after she declined Gruszynski's repeated advances, he threatened to follow her home. He admitted to a local newspaper that he was "incredibly drunk" and had made "unacceptable" comments, but he rejects claims that his behavior was "threatening or intimidating." He said he has apologized and is remorseful.

Two days after the state representative's drubbing in a race in which the charges featured prominently, Wisconsin legislative HR officials released investigation documents that include social media evidence confirming the staffer's allegations.

More evidence that societal attitudes about workplace sexual harassment have shifted can be found in a lawsuit McDonald's recently filed against former CEO Steve Easterbrook. Rather than reaching a quick, quiet settlement with the executive who was fired for sexting with a subordinate, McDonald's says "recently identified evidence shows" Easterbrook did far more.

The company says he had sexual relationships with three employees, and that he approved a stock grant for one of them "worth hundreds of thousands of dollars" and that he lied to its investigators.

Though Easterbrook was fired last year, he received a $40 million severance package. In its lawsuit, McDonald's says it had cause to fire him and that it wants the money and benefits back.

Observers say the suit could signal a new corporate approach to sexual harassment. Rather than shielding allegations from the public, McDonald's hopes that by airing the dirty laundry, it makes it clear to current employees and the public that it won't tolerate sexual misconduct.

If you've been subjected to sexual harassment in a Milwaukee workplace, contact Alan C. Olson and Associates to discuss your legal options.

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