The Inscrutable Lessons of New York’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Mason Goad

  • Article
  • August 08, 2023

To comply with state law, my colleagues and I at the National Association of Scholars were recently required to complete New York’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. The training included a one-hour video (available here) and a brief quiz, with the answers provided in the video’s numerous “interactive case studies.” After a brief introduction, the video’s hostess—Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor—began by defining sexual harassment: .

Sexual harassment is any behavior that subjects an employee to inferior conditions of employment due to their gender, gender identity, gender expression (perceived or actual), and / or sexual orientation.

Notice the heavy emphasis on the word “gender,” not “sex.” Most people would probably agree that sexual harassment is bullying or otherwise intentionally demeaning behavior on the basis of one’s sex. New York’s definition, however, makes sex and gender one and the same—“gender identities” and “gender expressions,” such as clownself, are now beyond critique.

After explaining how sexual harassment is often “intersectional,” how our “identities” shape our perception, how we are in the interest of creating an “equitable” workplace, and how those who become triggered by these topics can pause the video, Reardon defines sexual harassment again. The second definition, offered mere minutes after the first, even more explicitly protects “gender identity”:

Sexual harassment includes harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, self-identified or perceived sex, gender expression, gender identity, and the status of being transgender.

Perhaps the most concerning portion of the introduction, however, is that sexual harassment—unlawful as it is—does not consider mens rea (i.e., criminal intent) in determining one’s guilt or innocence. “The intent of the perpetrator does not affect whether behavior is harassment,” Reardon explains. “The impact of the behavior on an individual is what counts.” How, then, can one protect himself from false accusations? To acknowledge even the “impact” of a misperception can be construed as a confession of one’s guilt.

After the introduction, Reardon moves on to the interactive case studies, where the problem of Impact Over Intent is made clear. Case Study #3, for example, describes the experience of Sandra, a black, female resident intern at a teaching hospital, who overhears her supervisor, Dr. Grey, saying that she “must have been a diversity hire.” Sandra confides in a black, male intern, Justin, who tells her that Dr. Grey had never treated him differently than their non-black peers. In the months that follow, Dr. Grey “continues to bully Sandra” (which is stated as objective fact), though the description implies that this was Sandra’s perception alone.

Dr. Grey also begins to comment on Sandra’s personal appearance, suggesting that she wear makeup and straighten her natural hair in order to be perceived as professional. Sandra once more confides in another intern, Monica, described as a white female, who says that “Dr. Grey has never made her feel uncomfortable with personal remarks,” hinting that he has made similar comments about personal appearance and professionalism to the other interns.

Regardless, Dr. Grey—according to Reardon and the state of New York—is likely guilty of both racial and sexual discrimination, despite the acknowledged “fact that other Black colleagues have not felt mistreated based on race” and that “other women in her intern class feel respected.” The keyword in all of this is “feel.” As an accuser, Sandra’s subjective perceptions and feelings trump all relevant and objective facts, as well as the perceptions and intentions of the accused.

In another case study, Sex Stereotyping #2, we are introduced to Frank, a “genderfluid” man who wears makeup and dresses on occasion, and who has applied for an internal promotion at his company to serve as an administrative assistant to the company’s executive director. Frank does not receive the promotion, and the director states that while he supports Frank’s lifestyle, many of the “high-level guests” who come to visit him are “more traditional” and “would not be comfortable with Frank as their first point of contact.” It would seem, then, that the customer is always right, except when the customer disagrees with gender ideology.

The success of a business cannot be considered if it runs afoul of gender ideology—the same apparently applies to religious freedom. In Case Study #6, for example, we are introduced to Erin, a “trans woman” whose colleagues have accepted his “female” identity and use his preferred pronouns of “she / her / hers.” Erin’s colleague Vanessa, however, continues to “deadname” Erin (that is, to use Erin’s original name) and use he / him / his pronouns when referring to Erin. Vanessa states that being transgender violates her religious beliefs, but gender ideology apparently trumps whatever religion Vanessa subscribes to, as well as any and all other faiths. As Reardon explained in the question portion of the section:

Vanessa … does not have the right to intentionally ignore Erin’s preferred name and pronouns. Under the Human Rights Law, personal religious belief is not a justifiable defense for discrimination.

In an absolute violation of freedom of expression, New York State will compel the speech of all employers and employees who disagree with gender ideology, and under its Human Rights Law, the same goes for housing and places of public accommodations.

New York may be only one state. It may be among the wokest of states. But this gender ideology and destructive doctrine of “Impact Over Intent”—ideas that began in the academy—will surely spread if sensible people refuse to speak out against it.


Mason Goad is a research fellow at the National Association of Scholars. He can be contacted via email at [email protected], or via Twitter at @GoadMason.

Image: Thomson200, Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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