In recent years, the #Metoo movement has forced our society to focus its attention on the widespread problem of sexual harassment. Hundreds of celebrities and powerful public figures now face accusations of sexual harassment and abuse, and the list continues to grow. The sheer number of high profile cases highlights the pervasiveness of the abuse and is a wake-up call to address the problem.
Recent studies have shown that an astonishingly high percentage of Americans – 81% of women and 43% of men – have reported experiencing some form of sexual abuse or harassment in their lifetime. Although verbal harassment was the most common type of sexual misconduct reported, 51% of women and 17% of men reported being touched or groped in an unwelcome way.
Workplace sexual harassment is particularly common, with 34% of women reporting that they have been sexually harassed by a colleague. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), approximately 13,000 sex-based harassment claims are annually filed with the EEOC for workplace misconduct, a statistic that does not include state or local claims.
If you have been the victim of workplace harassment or sexual assault or harassment of any kind, contact a sexual harassment attorney at The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP to learn about your rights and consider a sexual harassment lawsuit.
What Legally Qualifies as Sexual Harassment?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the legal definition of sexual harassment includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” when this conduct “explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
The definition of harassment is quite broad, and includes many different circumstances:
- Victims and harassers may be male or female, and the victim may be of the same or opposite sex as the harasser.
- A harasser may be a supervisor, a co-worker or an agent of the employer.
- Victims may include not only the harassed person but also anyone adversely affected by the offensive conduct.
- There need not be any economic injury to the victim for the inappropriate behavior to qualify as harassment.
- Harassment does not need to be motivated by sexual desire, but can also be motivated by a desire to control or subjugate the employee.
Contact an experienced employment lawyer for legal advice to determine whether you should bring a claim for sexual harassment against your employer or colleague.
What are the Common Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment?
- Quid Pro Quo Harassment – Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor makes employment decisions or directly ties a job benefit to an employee submitting to unwelcome sexual advances. Examples include a supervisor who demands sexual favors in exchange for a raise, or a supervisor who threatens to fire an employee due to her rejection of his sexual advances, making sexual favors a condition of employment.
- Hostile Work Environment Harassment – Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to offensive or intimidating conduct by supervisors or co-workers that is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that alters the conditions of employment and which a reasonable person would consider abusive.
While quid pro quo harassment is relatively easy to identify, hostile work environment harassment is harder to define as it depends upon the totality of the circumstances and the context of the actions or comments and includes different forms of abusive behavior.
One type of hostile work environment harassment occurs when the victim suffers employment discrimination and unfavorable conditions of employment due to their gender. Gender discrimination includes sexist comments as well as discriminatory salary, work assignments, interview and hiring procedures, job evaluations and assignments simply because of an employee’s gender status.
Another form of hostile work environment harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to severe or pervasive unwelcome sexist behavior that makes an employee feel uncomfortable or intimidated and detracts from their ability to properly do their job. Some forms of harassment that can create an offensive work environment include:
- Physical Conduct – Physical harassment, including physical touching that could make an employee feel uncomfortable such as inappropriate touching, unwanted touching, pinching and patting and similar forms of physical contact of a sexual nature
- Offensive Comments – Offensive remarks, including repeated offensive jokes, vulgar jokes, sexual jokes, inappropriate comments, or unwelcome comments of a sexual nature about an employee’s body or clothing
- Offensive Conduct – Unwelcome conduct, such as sending sexually explicit or suggestive emails or text messages, making sexual gestures, the insensitive display of pictures with sexual connotations, repeatedly leaving unwanted romantic gifts or staring at someone in a sexually suggestive manner, or other forms of sexual innuendo and inappropriate sexual conduct
Occasional offhand comments or isolated incidents that a reasonable person would not find hostile are usually not enough to create an abusive work environment. However, if the offensive conduct increases in frequency and intensity, the victim is more likely to be entitled to legal recourse for an offensive work environment.
If you have been the victim of this type of behavior, call the sexual harassment lawyers at The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP for a confidential consultation to learn about your legal options.
What are the Laws that Govern Sexual Harassment Claims?
The laws governing sexual harassment claims are broad and complex and include federal, state, and local laws that often overlap:
Federal Law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, and other grounds. Sexual harassment is considered sex discrimination and is therefore included within the Civil Rights Act. Title VII is enforced by the EEOC and applies to public or private employers with fifteen or more employees.
State Law – Most states have enacted anti-discrimination laws prohibiting workplace sexual discrimination, many of which apply in cases that are not covered by Federal law.
- New York – The New York Human Rights Law prohibits harassment of employees based on gender identity, and applies to all employers in the state of New York, regardless of the number of their employees. Under New York law, sexual harassment prevention is prioritized, and all employers are required to develop a sexual harassment policy and to conduct sexual harassment training programs. Recent changes to New York’s fair employment practices laws have made it easier to bring sexual harassment charges, as employers can now be held liable for the harassment of independent contractors and other nonemployees.
- New Jersey – The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits sexual harassment of employees in the state of New Jersey, considering it to be a form of discrimination based upon gender identity. New Jersey fair employment practices law applies to all public and private employers with 1 or more employees, with exception of religious organizations.
- Pennsylvania – The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace in the state of Pennsylvania, and applies to organizations with four or more employees. The state requires all state government employees to receive sexual harassment training but does not yet mandate training for all employees.
If you have been the victim of gender discrimination or sexual harassment, you have legal recourse. Call a sexual harassment law firm to learn about your legal options today.
How Does Workplace Sexual Harassment Impact its Victims?
Sexual harassment victims often struggle with a range of negative consequences. In many cases, the harassed employee risks a poor performance evaluation, losing their job, or the possibility of promotion, if they refuse to give in to the sexual demands of a superior, as the fear of retaliation, is all too real. In other cases, a co-worker’s sexual advances might create an unbearably offensive working environment, indirectly pressuring victims of harassment to leave their jobs.
Harassing conduct can also cause significant emotional distress and harm the overall well-being of its victims. Studies show that over 90% of women who experience illegal harassment suffer from anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, and other forms of mental health problems and emotional distress.
When is there Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment?
Employers have an obligation, first and foremost, to provide a safe environment for all of their employees. The failure to do so opens the door to legal action by victims of workplace harassment.
An employer will be automatically liable for sexual harassment by a supervisor if the harassment results in a negative employment decision such as termination of the employee or a failure to promote or hire.
In cases where the employee has suffered from a hostile work environment, the employer could be liable if it knew of or should have known about the harassment and did not take corrective action to stop the inappropriate behavior in response to sexual harassment complaints. For this reason, it is important for victims of an offensive work environment to file an internal complaint documenting the circumstances of unlawful harassment.
An employer may also be liable for the harassing behavior of non-supervisory employees or independent contractors over whom it has control if it does not take corrective measures.
What Can a Sexual Harassment Lawyer Do for You?
If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual harassment or an offensive work environment, it is critically important to learn about your legal rights and seek legal counsel from a sexual harassment attorney.
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