Sexual Harassment Lawsuits

By: LawInfo

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 established legal protection from workplace discrimination based on sex. Courts have interpreted the Act as prohibiting employers and employees from committing sexual harassment. This type of harassment in the workplace includes unwanted physical or verbal advances. If you've been sexually harassed, discuss their situation with an employment lawyer who can determine if the law was broken.

Harassment laws set forth two primary types of inappropriate sexual actions in the workplace:

  • quid pro quo harassment
  • creation of a hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (via Supreme Court rulings) labels quid pro quo harassment as the demand for sexual favors in exchange for employment, a promotion or another benefit. The requirement for sexual favors in exchange for a benefit can be either explicitly stated or implied by a person within the company. In a quid pro quo situation, the targeted person will suffer a negative outcome, like a denial of employment, if the sexual act is not performed.

Hostile Work Environment

Harassment in the workplace does not have to be a clear request for sexual favors. Actions that make a person feel derided because of gender could also cross legal lines. The negative conduct might interfere with the person's ability to perform a job. An atmosphere of intimidation might also be created by illegal conduct.

Examples of actions that could constitute a hostile work environment include:

  • Unwelcome touching by a supervisor or coworker
  • Display of sexually suggestive media
  • Sharing stories about sexual exploits
  • Unwanted requests for sex

Advances from a person of the same sex could rise to sexual harassment. A victim doesn't necessarily have to lose a job or promotion for the conduct to cross the line. The source of the harassment could be a supervisor, coworker, or even someone outside the organization like a customer. Generally speaking, the conduct must be unwelcome by the victim.

Workplace Retaliation

When harassment occurs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") recommends the victim to directly inform the harasser of his or her dislike of the conduct. When possible, the victim should also file an official complaint with the employer.

Once a complaint is made, the employer must not retaliate against the employee. Retaliation could include dismissing the employee, changing the work schedule, demotion or some other type of reactive action.

Employer Liability

An attorney evaluating the potential responsibility of an employer will want to know if the employer had knowledge of the offensive conduct or should have been reasonably capable of knowing about it. If an employer knew or should have known and failed to correct the behavior, the employer could be held responsible for the conduct of employees. An employment lawyer advising a victim would want documentation about the workplace behavior and any employer responses to complaints.

An attorney can help an employee who believes they are being sexually harassed at work. If an employer fails to respond to an employee's complaint, an employment attorney could make the employer aware in writing. Should the matter continue without being remedied, an attorney may file a claim with the EEOC on behalf of the employee.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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