Sexual Harassment Lawyer: File a Lawsuit
If you are a victim of sexual harassment at work, you are not alone. Unfortunately sexual harassment is prevalent in the American workplace. Victims and aggressors of sexual harassment include both men and women, and the abuse can include one-time events or continuous mistreatment for months or years. Even if you have only experienced sexual harassment one time, you should contact an attorney to file a claim. In many cases, the harassment becomes habitual.
Types of Sexual Harassment Cases
There are two general types of sexual harassment cases: hostile environment and quid pro quo.
- Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment. Just as the label for this type of sexual harassment suggests, the hostile environment harassment umbrella encompasses types of verbal, digital, and physical communication causing the victim to suffer emotional and sometimes physical distress because of the hostility in their work environment. Hostile environment sexual harassment cases involve unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances, sexually oriented jokes, sexting, pornographic images, and inappropriate speech or other communication. With advancements in technology, the number of communications whereby inappropriate behavior is experienced increase. Hostile environment sexual harassment is much more difficult to prove than quid pro quo harassment because audio and video recordings are not usually available.
- Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment. Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment is much more direct, usually involving a supervisor, manager, or boss in a higher level position forcing or demanding subordinates to perform sexual favors such as oral sex or engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a promotion. Quid pro quo cases can also involve a manager threatening to fire an employee if they do not engage in sexual activity with them.Quid pro quo cases are usually easier to prove because of the bold advancements made by the supervisor. Email communication, witnesses, security surveillance, and unwanted touching or wandering hands are often observed by investigators via office surveillance camera recordings.
What Should You Know About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is more common than most people think, with more than 50% of survey respondents recently reporting having had at least one harassing incident over the course of their careers. While some of these people may have experienced “one-off” incidents that didn’t leave much of a lasting personal or professional impression, others can experience workplace harassment that impacts their health or results in termination from employment. Read on to learn more about the federal and state protections that exist for employees dealing with sexual harassment on the job.
What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to engage in or sanction harassment of a person because of that person’s sex — whether this harassment is of a sexual or gender-based nature. This can include everything from misogynistic or androgynous jokes to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other sex- or gender-based verbal or physical harassment.
These laws cover all employees of qualifying employers, regardless of whether the harassment is male-on-female, female-on-male, or involves two or more people of the same sex. In order to constitute sexual harassment, incident(s) must be severe or frequent enough to create a “hostile work environment” or result in the employee’s actual or constructive termination — infrequent teasing or mild jokes that don’t create a hostile work environment are unlikely to be deemed sufficient to carry a Title VII or state sexual harassment claim.
What are an employer’s obligations to protect employees from sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment cases are rarely clean-cut, and liability can often turn not on the circumstances of the harassment itself, but whether the employer knew (or should have known) of the harassment and whether it took sufficient efforts to prevent the situation from recurring. An employer can only be deemed liable for sexual harassment if a preponderance of the evidence shows that the employer either facilitated the harassment or failed to take action to stop it.
State laws can extend (but not restrict) these federal anti-harassment protections. In Texas, employers of 15 or more employees are covered by the Texas Labor Code, which assesses liability to employers that “knew or should have known” about harassment taking place and that failed to take prompt remedial action or that took action “not reasonably calculated” to stop the harassment.
As a practical matter, this expands the scope of anti-harassment laws to include situations in which an employer may have reassigned a problem employee rather than directly addressing his or her harassing behavior or when the burden of proof of harassment placed on the plaintiff was unreasonably high (for example, requiring an employee to provide video or audio evidence of harassment before an internal investigation can be launched).
Louisiana, on the other hand, has written its sexual harassment statute to apply only to those who work in businesses with 20 or more employees.
Louisiana statutes offer sexual discrimination protection for employees of businesses with between 15 and 20 employees, so they may instead opt to file a claim under federal law.
How are sexual harassment violations enforced against companies?
In most cases, a sexual harassment claim will be litigated under Title VII rather than state laws, but as previously mentioned there are exceptions. Regardless of whether the sexual harassment falls under state or federal jurisdiction, in most cases you need to through the formal process to obtain a right-to-sue letter. A letter allowing you to pursue a sexual harassment claim can be obtained from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state employment commission’s alternative dispute resolution procedures.
In most discrimination cases, federal law restricts an employee’s ability to file a civil lawsuit against an employer before the claim has been thoroughly vetted by the EEOC and any out-of-court resolution avenues have been pursued; this saves time, money, and court resources by focusing litigation only on cases that can’t be easily resolved through other means.
Once you’ve exhausted your administrative remedies and received a right-to-sue letter, you’ll be able to proceed against your employer in civil court. While many cases settle prior to trial, taking the case to its conclusion will eventually put it in the hands of the judge or jury to decide whether you’ve proven that the harassment occurred, was of sufficient severity to result in an adverse employment action or hostile work environment, and that your employer did not fulfill its obligations to prevent or stop the harassment.
What can an employee ask for after sexual harassment has been proven?
Once the EEOC or state employment officials prove that the sexual harassment occurred, they can offer the victim a number of solutions (aka remedies) depending on the specific details of the case. These remedies include:
- Punitive damages: the company pays you a cash settlement for their wrongdoing
- Money to compensate for any income or lost wages, lost bonuses, or other lost benefits
- Reinstatement, or getting a job back if fired for not performing sexual favors
- Injunctive remedy: the court orders the employer to pay all of your legal fees with injunctive relief, forcing the employer to end the harassment and draft a detailed company policy prohibiting sexual harassment.
State Level Sexual Harassment Laws
The Fair Employment Protection Acts (FEPA) provides state level employee rights organizations that can create and enforce certain violations, even beyond the scope of federal employment laws. In some states like California, employees are given even more protection from discrimination, harassment, and mistreatment than deemed sufficient by EEOC standards.
It is important to note that most harassment and discrimination complaints filed with FEP agencies at the state level are not eligible for punitive damages in personal injury claims. That is why most employment law attorneys experienced with sexual harassment cases pursue claims on a federal level.
Contact a Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, we want to help you. Keep a journal documenting all of the details, as difficult as it may be. Avoid alone time with the offender and make sure you have a friend walk to walk to your car with after work or to and from lunch. Stay safe!