Sexual harassment in the workplace refers to the illegal discrimination of an employee because of that person's sex or gender. This type of harassment can be emotionally devastating for victims and could come in different forms ranging from unwanted sexual advances and requests for sexual favors to inappropriate touching, and in some cases, even rape or sexual assault.
If you have been sexually harassed at work and have endured a hostile work environment, it is important to understand that you have rights under federal and state laws. You may be able to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer seeking compensation and other types of relief. An experienced Orange County sexual harassment lawyer can help you better understand your legal rights and options in such situations.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
Workplace sexual harassment is illegal under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Under the law, there are two main types of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor or someone in a position of authority requests sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a tangible job action.
For example, if a supervisor promises to promote an employee in exchange for sleeping with him or her, that constitutes sexual harassment. Another type of sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome physical or verbal behavior of a sexual nature that is so severe and pervasive and it creates a hostile work environment.
In addition, there are several types of workplace behaviors that constitute sexual harassment. For example, unwanted kissing, groping breasts or genitals, rape, sexual assault, making explicit sexual comments are all examples of harassment. While these are more overt forms of sexual harassment, there are several subtler forms of such harassment as well, which are severe enough to make an employee feel intimidated and uncomfortable.
Examples of these behaviors include repeatedly complimenting an employee's appearance, discussing one's sex life with an employee or asking an employee about his or her sex life, circulating nude photos or suggestive images in the workplace, sending sexually suggestive text messages or emails and spreading sexual rumors about an employee.
In order to be qualify as "hostile work environment," the conduct must be offensive not just to the employee, but also to a reasonable person in the same circumstances. It's also important to remember that perpetrators of sexual harassment could be male or female and the harasser could be a manager/supervisor, a co-worker or a non-employee such as a client or customer.
What Steps Should You Take If You Are a Victim?
While incidents of sexual harassment can be emotionally devastating, there are a number of steps employees who are subject to these types of unacceptable behaviors in the workplace would be well advised to do.
Report the harassment right away. This is important because you may not be able to file a sexual harassment lawsuit if you don't report the incident or incidents in a timely manner. If you are the victim of a crime such as sexual assault, sexual battery or rape, it is important that you report it right away to local law enforcement. In other cases of harassment, if your company has a specific protocol, be sure to follow it. If your supervisor or manager is the harasser, the incident should be reported to your supervisor's manager. Document all communications and keep copies of any reports you file.
Make detailed notes. It is important that you also document incidents as soon as they can. Include any threats or promises that were made. All relevant texts, emails, internal memos or documents should be saved. It would be in your best interest to keep this information in a safe location such as a home computer. This is because you could lose access to your work computer if your job is suddenly terminated.
File a complaint with an appropriate agency. If your employer fails to resolve your sexual harassment complaint, you can file a complaint with a state or federal agency such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file these types of formal complaints. If a government agency is unable to resolve your complaint, it will issue a "right to sue" letter, which means you have grounds to take your employer to court.
Contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer. Employment laws in California can be complex and difficult to understand. There are also processes and deadlines to meet. Our experienced Orange County sexual harassment lawyers can also help you avoid the pitfalls and mistakes that could put your case in jeopardy.
Damages in a Sexual Harassment Case
If your sexual harassment lawsuit is successful, you may be able to receive damages including:
Back pay: If you were denied a raise, a promotion or wrongfully terminated as a result of sexual harassment, you may be entitled to back pay. This includes wages, benefits and other compensation you would have earned from the time of the adverse employment decision up to the date of a jury award or settlement. Back pay also includes bonuses, commissions, tips, the value of benefits such as health insurance, vacation or sick pay and retirement or pension benefits.
Front pay: Under federal law, if you lost your job or had to quit because of sexual harassment, you may be able to return to your former position. If that is not possible or desired, you may be able to receive an award for front pay in lieu of reinstatement. This is intended to compensate you for any loss of wages you are likely to suffer from the date of your judgment into the future.
Compensatory damages and punitive damages: Compensatory damages include monetary damages for the emotional distress you may have suffered, any harm to your reputation and any out-of-pocket costs you may have incurred as a result of the harassment such as medical bills, cost of psychological counseling and job search costs. Punitive damages are typically awarded in egregious cases, especially when management knew about the harassment, but allowed it to continue or failed to take any reasonable steps to stop it.
Attorney's fees and court costs: In some cases, plaintiffs may also be able to receive compensation for attorney's fees and other costs such as court filing fees.
How Can Our Sexual Harassment Lawyers Help?
Our experienced Orange County sexual harassment lawyers will help evaluate your case and explain all the legal options available to you. We can provide you with valuable information about how to properly document incidents of harassment and how you can protect yourself from employer retaliation. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, please contact us at 888-209-8927 for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.