Psychological Injury and Law

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 216–229 | Cite as

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

  • Angela K. Lawson
  • Louise F. Fitzgerald


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.


Sexual harassment Litigation Recovery Psychological PTSD 



This article is based in part on the doctoral dissertation of the first author under the direction of the second author, work supported in part by the National Institute for Mental Health under Award No. MH50791-08. Portions of this dataset were also published by Wright & Fitzgerald (2008); Collinsworth et al. (2009); and Larsen & Fitzgerald (2011). The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Linda Collinsworth, Fritz Drasgow, Nicole Allen, and Karla Fischer to earlier versions of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This study was approved by the Human Subject’s Review Board at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (national and institutional). Informed consent was obtained from all individual subjects participating in the study.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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