Sexual Harassment

Experienced Sexual Harassment Attorneys

In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act made sexual harassment, or gender discrimination a prohibited act. Even though it has been years since the laws came into the fold, unfortunately, harassment and sexual discrimination are still a part of some workplaces around the country. Statistics indicate there are thousands of sexual harassment claims made each year. As a result, harassment is still a sore spot for employers.

Sexual harassment is a subtle type of discrimination. Victims of harassment typically receive the standard (not lower) pay for their job, they receive promotions, and their gender does not play a role in their positions. Instead, victims have a difficult time performing their jobs because the work environment is full of inappropriate behavior and sexual innuendo.

You need to know and understand what appropriate behavior is and what conduct in the workplace is acceptable in order to protect yourself. If you are aware of the types of behavior that fall under the category of sexual harassment, you will be better able to recognize it in case it happens to you or someone close to you. It could be that you are not the actual victim of harassment, but rather, a witness to it.

How to Identify Sexual Harassment

There are many known forms of sexual harassment. No matter how it shows itself; it brings unnecessary stress into the life of an employee while at work. It may be subtle or blatant and can appear as a specific pattern of behavior building steam over a period of time. Sexual harassment can be unwanted touching, offensive language, or other verbal and physical motions that make a person feel uncomfortable.

You should know there is no specific “type” of person that experiences unwanted advances and inappropriate sexual language. In other words, it can affect anyone. It doesn’t have to be your boss or a co-worker harassing you. It’s important to remember the following about victims of sexual harassment, harassment itself and harassers:

  • Supervisors, co-workers, contract workers, non-employees, or a boss can harass you
  • You can witness harassment against another person and make a sexual harassment claim
  • The behavior is not wanted or supported
  • Victims and perpetrators can be of either sex
  • Same sex harassment is an issue also
  • All of the rude, offensive and despicable behavior at work does not fall under the category of sexual harassment

What Type of Behavior Qualifies as Sexual Harassment?

According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment means “sexual advances that are not welcome, sexual favor requests, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.Sexual harassment ca be determined when submission or rejection of this conduct affects an individual’s employment, arbitrarily interferes with their work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

Sexual harassment claims come in two forms and over the years how the court system differentiates between them has been harder to pinpoint. But the two types of harassment claims fall into these categories:

  • Quid Pro Quo: This type of harassment takes place when a supervisor or a superior asks for sex or a sexual relationship to keep the victim from losing their job or facing some other punishment or to receive a higher salary or promotion.
  • Hostile Work Environment: A work location that is full of inappropriate sexual jokes, puns, images, and threats. The conduct is so offensive the victim feels terrorized or frightened while at work.

Every state has different laws relating to sexual harassment, and some states have no laws preventing harassment to take place nor do they punish sexual harassment. Alabama, for example, gives victims the opportunity to pursue legal action against an employer under the invasion of privacy laws; while Vermont mandates all employers to have policies preventing sexual harassment. If you feel you may be a victim of sexual harassment, you should consult a personal injury attorney to address the specifics of your situation and learn how your state handles claims.

How Do Courts Apply Sexual Harassment Laws?

Although defining sexual harassment may be a fairly simple task, proving it in a court of law is another issue altogether. The courts often have a hard time determining if a case falls under the laws of sexual harassment, especially if the specifics of the case point to a hostile workplace as opposed to a quid pro quo situation. The U. S. Supreme Court has made the ruling that an employer can defend themselves in hostile workplace cases by showing they took precautions and made reasonable efforts to alleviate menacing and harassing conduct. Companies can make the argument it is not their fault if employees did not utilize management’s policy to report and request counseling to make sexual harassment incidents known.

Once a claim of a hostile workplace goes through the legal system, the courts will consider the following:

  • How often did the supposed inappropriate conduct take place?
  • How serious is the conduct?
  • The victim’s behavior.
  • The context of the supposed conduct.
  • How large is the company?
  • What type of business is it?
  • If another reasonable person would think the workplace environment is hostile (for hostile workplace claims).

You should be aware that if you willingly took part in risqué talk, jokes, and sexual banter, it will harder for you to prove you were a victim of sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment Untruths

There are several myths associated with sexual harassment and who can be a victim of it. The reality is that there is no specific “type” of person more likely to be a victim of harassment. Here are some of the myths surrounding sexual harassment:

  • Women are the only sexual harassment victims. This is a false statement. Women can and do harass men, even though women are more likely to be the subjects of harassment by males.
  • Same sex harassment does not take place. This is also false. Same sex harassment does take place according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Incidents of sexual harassment only happen while in the work environment. This is false. Teachers, professors, and other school system employees (this includes colleges and universities) can subject students to sexual harassment which is a violation of the law.
  • It is a false assumption to think that supervisors are the only ones that commit sexual harassment. An individual can be the victim of sexual harassment from a co-worker or a third party, like an employer’s client. It does matter if the employer was aware of the misconduct and did not prevent or stop it.

If you have been a victim to any of these situations, or if you have another instance you are unsure of, you should consult a personal injury attorney to determine if your issue falls under the guidelines of sexual harassment.

What Should You Do if You Experience Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment victims often feel helpless and hopeless about their situation. Often they think no one will believe them or there is absolutely nothing that can do to stop the problem. A victim can feel powerless, and sometimes they suffer in silence rather than discuss the misconduct. Harassment victims need to realize there are steps (informal and formal) they can take to keep the behavior from continuing.

A victim must take the appropriate steps to stop sexual misconduct and harassers in their tracks. Here are some steps to take if you are ever the subject of inappropriate behavior:

  1. Tell the harasser to stop. Not everyone is aware of what offensive behavior is. If you feel you are in a hostile workplace, you need to tell the person you have a problem with to stop. Let them know their behavior offends you. They may not know they are offending you or making you uncomfortable. In most instances, by making your feelings known, the behavior will stop. If it doesn’t work, you have at least made an effort to let the harasser you don’t approve of their conduct.
  2. File a complaint with your employer. If after asking the harassing offender to stop the behavior continues, you should follow your company’s policy on filing a sexual harassment complaint. Most companies usually have detailed procedures in place for how to handle inappropriate conduct on the job. Make sure you complete all the steps listed in your employer’s policy and pay careful attention to the time limits specified in their policy as you don’t want to lose the valuable time necessary for seeking action regarding your claim. A personal injury attorney can help you navigate through any details or deadlines of which you may be unsure.
  3. If no company policy exists, talk to your immediate supervisor. If your employer has no specific policy regarding sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior, take the time to sit down with your immediate supervisor and explain to them what is going on with you and the harasser.
  4. Document all incidents of harassment. Make sure you keep a list of all dates, times, and incidents of harassment. Be very specific and include conversation details and who was present.
  5. If you cannot resolve your complaint with your employer, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If by chance, your harassment claim cannot be resolved through your employer’s process, you can file your claim with the EEOC office or the state human rights or civil rights enforcement agencies. They will investigate the claim and try to work with your employer for a resolution. If the agency cannot settle the issue through employer negotiations, and it is a valid claim, they will help you come up with a “right to sue” letter. The letter gives you the opportunity to take your case to through the court system.

Sexual Harassment and Court Litigation

Once it is determined your case is eligible for legal litigation, it is a good idea for you to consult with a personal injury attorney. Sexual harassment attorneys will be familiar and experienced in handling legal proceedings and know the specific paperwork to file and the timelines to meet. They will be your best option for assistance if you decide to take your case to court.

When a government agency has issued a “right to sue,” you have the option to initiate a legal suit for injuries relating to your sexual harassment claim. You should know that showing physical injuries is not a requirement to prove your case. Most injuries relating to a sexual harassment case are emotional ones.

If you are successful in proving you were a victim of harassment, you may receive:

  • Your job back (if you were terminated);
  • Back pay, and you will receive triple damages if you lost money or you didn’t get a pay increase;
  • Any fringe benefits you missed;
  • Payment for emotional distress;
  • A stipulation your employer must include sexual harassment procedures and training;
  • Payment of your sexual harassment lawyer’s fees and any applicable court costs.

What to do if you are a Victim of Sexual Harassment?

If you feel you are a victim of sexual harassment, your first step should be to let the harasser know you find their behavior offensive and ask them to stop. Not all people have the same sense of humor, and they may not be aware their conduct bothers you. Let them know upfront if their jokes and sexual innuendo make you feel uncomfortable, so there is no question about the kind of behavior you will tolerate. In many cases, making your feelings known will stop the problem. If not, follow your employer’s policies and procedures for reporting sexual harassment. You may need to pursue legal action if none of the initial steps to prevent harassment fail to give you any relief.

Call the Sexual Harassment Attorneys at Ashcraft & Gerel

If you feel you are the victim of sexual harassment and need assistance, the best thing for you to do is to speak with an experienced attorney about your claim. The sexual harassment lawyers at Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP can work with you to get the resolution you need to feel comfortable in your workplace. Call us for a consultation to discuss how we can help you through this difficult time in your life.

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