What Kesha's Legal Battles Tell Us About Women at Work

Women in entertainment and media often face retaliation when fighting sexual harassment.

Singer Kesha attends the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, in Las Vegas. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/BBMA2016/Getty Images)

Aug 3, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Sean Eckhardt is TakePart's editorial fellow.

Kesha’s allegations of sexual harassment and assault met an end that, in a sense, experts say is all too common: She dropped her lawsuits against producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald Tuesday.

The pop singer’s civil lawsuits were unique: Most women aren’t under contract to work with an accused attacker, and therefore they pursue criminal prosecution rather than a civil court verdict. Yet, not reaching a legal conclusion is common in any case of sexual harassment or assault. Out of every 1,000 rapes that occur in the United States, only 344 are reported to police and only seven result in a felony conviction, according to advocacy group RAINN.

It’s a problem Paige Edley, a professor of communication studies at Loyola Marymount University, sees repeatedly in her research focusing on the intersection of power, gender, and identity in the workplace.

“It’s somewhat of a losing battle because he has more power and more money than she does,” Edley said. The more the producer holds out, the less money the performer will have to fight it out in court.

Kesha’s attorneys filed the civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in October 2014, alleging sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of Gottwald, whom Kesha met in Nashville when she was 18. She is two albums into a five-album contract with Dr. Luke’s label, Sony Music subsidiary Kemosabe, that she is still trying to get out of. It’s been four years since her second album, Warrior, was released. Her lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, said in a statement that the singer hopes to release her new record as soon as possible.

“My fight continues,” Kesha said on Facebook. “I need to get my music out. I have so much to say. This lawsuit is so heavy on my once free spirit.”

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Kesha’s story is the latest in a series of high-profile lawsuits that involve challenges women face when trying to advance their careers despite sexual harassment and workplace gender politics. Edley points to bro culture, in reference to power structures, largely dominated by men, in entertainment and media.

She sees similarities between this case and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson’s outstanding suit against her former boss Roger Ailes, another figure who had the institutional support of his company before an internal investigation conducted by 21st Century Fox revealed rampant sexual harassment by the former CEO of the news organization.

In crossing powerful figures like these, women often face retaliation.

“If [a woman] walks, she may not get another job in the industry, and he can try to control her career potential that way, whether it’s at Sony or at Fox or other companies,” Edley said. “There’s this long reach that people have that they can squelch someone else’s career through their own network.”

When it comes to sexual harassment, more than half of claims filed with federal regulators are dismissed without charges, according to 2015 statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Edley believes changing this dynamic is not easy or straightforward.

“From my critical perspective, which is sort of a Pollyanna perspective, we can do it,” Edley said. “We’ve got to have more women stand up like the Gretchen Carlsons and the Keshas, and they’ve got to stand up, and they’ve got to speak truth to power.”

That said, most cases of sexual harassment in the workplace will not be covered by news media.

“You’ve got to think about the individual women who are sacrificing so much: the potential of not being able to climb in their careers, the potential for not being able to put food on the table for their kids, especially if they’re single mothers,” Edley said.

Despite the challenges, Edley believes that with increased awareness of the issue, especially among men, progress is slowly being made in improving conditions for professional women.

“People are becoming disgusted,” Edley said. “The more we point it out, there will be some men that say, ‘Oh, maybe I participated in that and didn’t even realize it.’ ”