Sexual harassment is a serious problem affecting millions of people in the United States alone. One location you expect to be safe from sexual harassment is in the workplace. When you are at work, you should be provided with a safe environment free from harassment, abuse, discrimination, and hostility.
Workplace harassment is defined by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) as “unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person’s job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” This type of harassment, while more commonly happening to women, also occurs with men, who make up almost 20% of the reported instances.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms, even inappropriate “locker room” talk among others in the workplace. It also includes lewd jokes, pictures, or remarking on someone’s outfit or appearance in a sexual manner. Consensual flirting or remarks are not considered harassment. Harassment occurs when a nonconsensual physical act or remark is directed to someone.
There are two main categories of harassment. “Quid pro quo” harassment involves a supervisor or person in a position of authority attempting to get a worker to take sexual advances in exchange for a promotion, a raise, or to avoid being fired; just one instance of this type of harassment is enough to sustain a legal claim. “Hostile work environment” harassment involves sexually harassing conduct so severe and pervasive that it creates a hostile workplace.
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you should notify your company’s Human Resources department and make a report, and then contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney in New York City.
What counts as sexual harassment?
- Unwanted touching
- Unwanted groping of sexual areas
- Physically blocking a person from moving
- Sexual advances
- Sending lewd or sexual texts, emails, or jokes
- Sexual or inappropriate language
- Propositioning for sex
Sexual harassment lawsuits can be complicated. The victim must be able to meet both a subjective and objective standard. The plaintiff has to show that they truly believed the conduct was hostile, abusive, or offensive and must also show that others in that position would have objectively believed it to be as well. Harassment cases can become a “he said, she said” situation, making it hard for a judge to make a ruling.
It may seem unfair at first glance, but the victims of sexual harassment do bear the burden of attempting to end or resolve the harassment, and then reporting it if it cannot be resolved. It can sound very difficult, but the single most effective way to end sexual harassment is to directly tell the person that you are offended and ask them to stop. Many times, the harasser is unaware that their comments or behavior is offensive in the first place. Whether you say something in person or in an email, this is the first step. If nothing changes, there are additional steps you can take.
What do I do if I have been sexually harassed?
- Inform the harasser that their actions are offensive.
- If it does not stop, let your supervisor/manager and Human Resources department know. If you don’t follow company policies and report the harassment, you may lose in court for not attempting to resolve it according to their policies.
- Make sure to write down and document all instances of harassment and the steps you have taken. This is necessary.
- If your company does not resolve the problem, file a complaint with the EEOC, which enforces Title VII.
- After the EEOC investigates and if there is no settlement, you can then file a Title VII lawsuit. Make sure to file within the statute of limitations.
What it Title VII?
Title VII, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is the primary law under which federal discrimination lawsuits can be filed. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It specifically prohibits companies and employers from discriminating against their employees based on sex, race, religion, and/or national origin. The New York Human Rights Law at the state level here, bars employers from discriminating against workers in any capacity. These laws also protect workers from being retaliated against for complaining about perceived discrimination.
Sexual harassment is considered a form of gender discrimination, since the conduct occurs because of a person’s gender. When you report sexual harassment or file a claim, it is illegal for companies and employers to engage in retaliation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. To protect yourself, you should acquire a copy of your personnel file before you officially file a complaint. Once you have this, your past work evaluations and performance are documented and cannot be changed, in the event that your employer demotes or transfers you in retaliation for your claim. Society can be quite litigious, so it makes sense to be prepared and expect the worst, so that you are not surprised in the event retaliation occurs.
Major Sexual Harassment Cases in the News
- This summer in 2017, Uber fired over 20 employees after sexual harassment claims were investigated, and 40 more employees were reprimanded or referred to counseling/training. There were over 200 sexual harassment or misconduct claims made against the company.
- Harvey Weinstein was recently removed from his own company after reports of sexual harassment came out, happening over the course of the last 20 years. Dozens of actresses have come out with their stories, and it has been reported that Weinstein has been paying off sexual harassment accusers for decades.
- Taylor Swift recently won a symbolic $1 by a jury after taking her sexual harasser to court. A radio DJ groped her at a photo op several years ago and then attempted to sue her after she reported it and he was fired from his job. She counter-sued for sexual assault and won.
If you have been harassed by anyone, you deserve to feel safe and protected. The Law Offices of Ronemus & Vilensky understand and are equipped to deal with sexual harassment laws in New York City and are qualified harassment lawyers, available to help you get justice and navigate your way through the court system and make a sexual harassment claim.