Workplace sexual harassment can come in various forms and could encompass many different scenarios. An employee may be sexually harassed by a colleague, a supervisor, a customer or even client. Sexually harassing behaviors may include anything from inappropriate comments or jokes and inappropriate or unwanted touching to someone promising you a job perk or promotion in exchange for sexual favors.
There is heightened awareness in our society today about workplace sexual harassment thanks to the rise of social movements such as #MeToo and high-profile civil and criminal trials that are receiving widespread media coverage. If you are being sexually harassed in the workplace, it is important that you contact our experienced Los Angeles sexual harassment attorneys who can help you better understand your workplace legal rights and options.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment does not necessarily have to involve sex or sexual acts. It can include behaviors such as teasing, intimidation or offensive comments based on stereotypes such as how certain people should act. It could also include bullying someone or a group of employees based on their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. There are two types of sexual harassment:
Quid pro quo: This type of sexual harassment occurs when it is stated or implied that an employment decision depends on whether the employee submits to conduct of a sexual nature. Quid pro quo sexual harassment also occurs when it is stated or implied that an employee must submit to conduct of a sexual nature in order to continue employment. So, for example, if an employee is made to believe that a promotion or training opportunity is likely if he or she goes on a date with the supervisor or agrees to perform a sexual act, the employee is very likely being subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment. “Quid pro quo” is a phrase that means “this for that.”
Hostile work environment: Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working environment that is severe, persistent and pervasive so much so that it affects the employee's ability to fulfill job duties effectively. It's not necessary that the harasser is a person of authority. Sometimes, the harasser could be a peer.
Examples of Sexual Harassment
Here are some of the most common scenarios in which workplace sexual harassment occurs:
Sexual comments: These include dirty jokes or comments about one's physical attributes, spreading rumors about someone's sexual activity, talking about one's sexual activity in front of others and displaying or distributing pornography. These types of unwanted comments may be made in person or via email, instant messaging, blogs, Web pages, social media etc.
Unwanted advances: When someone is sending you letters, or making harassing phone calls, office visits and pressuring you for dates or sexual favors. These are scenarios where a sexual or romantic intent appears evident, but remains unwanted.
Inappropriate touching: This includes any type of unwanted touching such as hugging, kissing, fondling or touching oneself sexually for others to view. This also includes criminal acts such as rape, sexual assault or other forced sexual acts. It is important to remember that if something of a criminal nature has occurred, you should report the incident to law enforcement right away.
Sexist comments: It is a common misconception that harassment must be of a sexual nature in order to be considered illegal. However, under Title VII, offensive conduct that is based on an employee's sex that is severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment, is also illegal. For example a workplace might be hostile if supervisors are constantly stereotyping women, telling them to wear specific types of clothing or are leaving them out of important meetings because of their gender.
Harassment by others: It is clear that when a manager or colleague is the harasser, it is illegal. But, under federal law, an employer also has the responsibility to protect employees from harassment by outsiders, who might be customers, clients, vendors or even business partners. If the employer knows or should have known that harassment is occurring, prompt action must be taken to stop the harassment.
Finally, it is important to note that the harassed and harasser could be of any gender. Traditionally, sexual harassment creates images of a woman being harassed by a man. While this scenario is still more common, there have been a number of cases where women harass men in the workplace. Same-sex harassment, whether it's male against a male or female against a female, is also illegal.
What Actions Can You Take?
Here are a few steps you can take right away to help protect yourself and your legal rights:
Document everything. It is a good idea to keep a log or record of incidents that are happening. If you decide to report or take action, it will greatly help if you are able to point to specific dates and particulars about certain behaviors. So, for example, if your supervisor sent you a harassing email or instant message, save it. If someone made a harassing comment during a meeting, document it right away with the date and time. Make sure you store all this information at home or in a place other than your office so it is accessible to you when you need it.
Make your feelings very clear. Make it clear to the harasser that his or her conduct is unwelcome. You should certainly vocalize your discomfort if you feel safe doing so. You could try saying that the type of comment or conversation is inappropriate in the workplace or let the other person know that his or her behavior is making you uncomfortable.
Contact an employment lawyer. It would be in your best interest to get an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer on your side – someone who has successfully handled workplace sexual harassment cases. Look for plaintiff's lawyers who represent workers rather than employers.
How Can You Report Sexual Harassment?
There are a number of different options you may have to report sexual harassment in the workplace. The option you pick will typically depend on the nature of the harassment and in many cases, the seriousness of it.
Law enforcement: If the sexual harassment is severe or if the act is criminal, it is important that you report the incident to law enforcement immediately. Whether a sexual assault or rape occurred at the workplace, on a business trip, or off-site, you might want to go directly to law enforcement. File a police report and obtain a copy of the report for your own records. Your employment lawyer can also help you get a copy of the police report.
Your employer: Most companies have clear policies and procedures when it comes to sexual harassment. Check your employee handbook or other policy documents you may have received when you came on board. Such information may also be available in your employee portal. Your company's policy might direct you to file a complaint with your supervisor. However, if your supervisor is the harasser (which is often the case), you may want to go to his or her supervisor or the Human Relations department.
Be sure you ask for something in writing to verify that you've made a complaint. It might also be in your best interest to ask for a timeline so you know when you can expect to hear back. Although the company may conduct an internal investigation, they might not share all details of the findings. But, if you follow up, they are likely to keep you updated. Following your complaint, even though your employer is not required to fire or suspend the harasser, they are required to make the harassment stop.
Union: If you are a union member, you can also speak to a union representative about sexual harassment in the workplace. Your union rep may be able to serve as a liaison between you and your employer. If your harasser is also a union member, remember that it is the union's job is to protect and advocate for them as well. In such cases, you may want to discuss your case only with your employment lawyer.
EEOC Claim: You may also choose to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or with a state or local agency. You will have to take this step before filing a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law. Your attorney will be able to fill you in on deadlines each agency has to file such claims and complaints. Once you file a charge, the agency will investigate and determine whether harassment took place. If the agency finds no cause, that will give the employee the Notice of Right to Sue and you can pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit on your own. If the agency finds there is cause, they might try to resolve the issue directly with the employer of give you the right to sue so you can proceed with your lawsuit.
Lawsuit: Once you receive a right-to-sue letter, you have 90 days to file a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit. It is best to discuss this with your employment lawyer. While a majority of sexual harassment lawsuits tend to settle out of court, you need an attorney on your side who also has trial experience so he or she is prepared to take it to a jury trial, if that becomes necessary.
Damages in Sexual Harassment Lawsuits
If you've been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The amount of financial compensation you receive will depend on the type of harm you've suffered as a result of the sexual harassment. Here are some of the common types of damages that can be sought in a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit:
Back pay: If you were fired, denied a raise or promotion as a result of sexual harassment, you may be entitled to back pay that includes wages, benefits (healthcare, dental, vision, retirement, etc.) and other compensation you would have earned from the time of the negative employment decision up to the date of the jury award or settlement. In addition to wages and benefits, back pay includes bonuses, commissions, tips, vacation or sick pay as well as stock options.
Front pay: If you were terminated or were forced to quit as a result of a hostile work environment created by sexual harassment, you have the right to be reinstated to your former position. If you don't wish to return or if your position is not available any more, you may be able to receive compensation for any wage loss you are likely to suffer from the date of a jury award or settlement into the future.
Compensatory damages: You may be entitled to receive compensatory damages for pain and suffering – any physical or emotional injuries you may have suffered as a result of the sexual harassment. In addition, you may also be able to get compensated for harm to your reputation or out-of-pocket costs for expenses such as psychological counseling, medical expenses or costs incurred as part of a job search.
Punitive damages: In some cases, a court may award punitive damages to punish the employer for particularly egregious or outrageous behavior. Punitive damages may be awarded, for example, if your employer was aware of the harassment, but did not take any steps to correct the situation, or did something to make it worse.
Attorneys' fees: If you are successful with your sexual harassment lawsuit, you may also be able to receive attorneys' fees and court costs such as filing fees.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you have been sexually harassed at work, please do not suffer in silence. Our Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley have helped uphold employee rights for nearly 40 years. We have the knowledge, experience and resources to fight for you and win. We also offer a no-win-no-fee guarantee, which means we don't charge fees unless we win for you. Call us today at 888-500-8469 for no-cost, no-obligation consultation and case evaluation.