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Idle Rights: Employees' Rights Consciousness and the Construction of Sexual Harassment Policies


  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association and at the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at the University of California, Berkeley. I would especially like to thank Ruth Aguilera, Scott Barclay, Jonathan Casper, Lauren Edelman, Michael Goldman, Bert Kritzer, Zine Magubane, Winnie Poster, Joseph Sanders, Vicki Schultz, Rachel Schurman, Charis Thompson, Sandy Welsh, and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments that have considerably improved the article.

Please direct all correspondence regarding the article to Anna-Maria Marshall, Department of Sociology, University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign, 326 Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801; e-mail:


This article analyzes women's legal consciousness in responding to unwanted sexual attention in the workplace. By focusing on a particular social problem, this study is situated in the particular legal domain of sexual harassment laws and in a specific organizational context. Taking the perspective of the intended beneficiaries of sexual harassment policies and procedures—women with complaints about sexual conduct in the workplace—I show that the implementation of grievance procedures creates powerful obstacles to women's efforts to assert those rights. Moreover, the practices implementing the policies can alter the very definition of sexual harassment in that setting. Thus, in enacting grievance procedures, women and supervisors construct a legality in particular workplaces that offers only limited protection for women's rights.