Sexual harassment persists in the workplace despite written policies, protocols for employees to follow and in-house education classes or trainings for employees. You can be harassed by your supervisor or boss, coworker, client or customer.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws sexual harassment and applies to all federal employees and to private employers with at least 15 employees. California has its own law pertaining to sexual harassment under the Fair Housing and Employment Act (FHEA).
Sexual harassment is not confined to female employees. If offensive sexual comments are directed to males, or gay, lesbian or transgender employees, it can constitute actionable harassment, entitling them to compensation.
Common examples of sexual harassment include the following:
- Sending sexually explicit emails or depictions to you and/or to other coworkers
- Gossip of a coworker to others that you are sexually promiscuous
- Continually making sexually tinged or offensive jokes or leering in your presence
- Making sexual comments or references to your style of dress or appearance
- Persistent requests for dates despite your refusals
- Sexual assault or rape
- Termination or denial of a pay increase or other benefit because you refused a supervisor’s sexual advances (quid pro quo harassment)
- Retaliatory termination after complaining of sexual harassment
You may have an actionable claim based on a single incident where your supervisor or employer terminated you, demoted you or otherwise treated you unfairly for refusing to date him or her or for refusing romantic advances. If the conduct is harassment, however, then the harassing behavior must be persistent and occur frequently so as to create a hostile working environment. This is a workplace that a reasonable person would consider as so intolerable or offensive as to make it substantially difficult to perform your work. There must also be evidence that you found the behavior intolerable and that it caused you mental distress so that you were unable to perform your work.
What to Do if You are Sexually Harassed
You do have recourse if you are victimized. If you are a union member, there is likely a collective bargaining agreement in place with a policy prohibiting such conduct and detailing the steps you need to take. Generally, you should contact your union representative to file a grievance. Most businesses also have policies regarding sexual harassment to protect themselves from liability and have established protocols so that there are designated individuals, or Human Resources personnel, to receive complaints about the behavior.
The employer must investigate your complaint by interviewing you, your co-workers and the accused harasser and gathering any materials that you found offensive. The parties may meet with the employer or representative to discuss the behavior and to attempt to arrive at a resolution. This may include warning the harasser, sanctioning, or possibly reassigning him or her.
The employer should also conduct trainings to all employees while monitoring the workplace for repeated incidents. Under California law, the employer must take steps to remedy the situation and to prevent the harasser from continuing the behavior.
You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC, or with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment if filing under the FHEA. Your EEOC complaint must be filed within 300 days of the last discriminatory act. If filing under the FHEA, you have one year.
Both agencies will investigate your complaint. The EEOC can suggest mediation, attempt a resolution, file a lawsuit on your behalf or deny your complaint and issue a right-to-sue letter.
After you receive the letter, you can file a suit in court. You must also exhaust your administrative remedy with the Department of Fair Housing and Employment before filing a suit in state court. You do have the option of simply requesting the FHEA to issue a right-to-sue letter so you can immediately proceed to file in court.
California law also has a strict liability rule if a supervisor is the harasser. Once proved, you are automatically entitled to damages.
Remedies for Sexual Harassment
Regarding damages in a successful sexual harassment case, you may collect compensation for:
- Past and future medical or psychological expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Emotional distress
- Attorney’s fees and costs
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
- Punitive or exemplary damages
Punitive damages are recoverable upon sufficient proof that the employer condoned or ratified the harassing conduct and/or failed to investigate or sanction the harasser despite convincing evidence that it had occurred.
Take action if you are sexually harassed at work in any of the circumstances discussed herein by calling the Liskey Law Firm and get the legal advice you need from attorneys who understand and care. You have the right to perform your work free of such offensive behavior and in an environment where you can work to the best of your ability and to advance based solely on your meeting company performance standards that apply to all.