If you’ve been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you’re not alone. An increasing number of victims are now stepping forward and speaking out. Learn about your rights under federal law, and the steps you can take to fight back.
Victim of Sexual Harassment at Work?
Recently, reports of workplace sexual harassment involving prominent politicians, sports figures, and entertainers have been making the headlines. But these incidents frequently involve ordinary people doing ordinary jobs. A 2015 survey in Cosmopolitan magazine found that one woman in three had been sexually harassed at work, and that 71% of victims did not report the offense. Have been sexually harassed at work?
Note – this article will not be discussing sexual assault. If you believe you have been sexually assaulted, you should contact the police. Please also be aware that workplace harassment is a complicated area of the law. If you think you may have a complaint to file, please discuss your case with a qualified worker’s discrimination attorney.
What Is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Federal law protects workers from harassment, such as the giving of employment benefits in return for sexual favors, as well as from harassment that, while not affecting economic benefits, creates a hostile or offensive working environment. If you are subject to this kind of harassment, the employer or colleague responsible may be liable for damages. As authorized by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) created rules enforcing these rights. In addition, according to the list compiled by the non-profit organization Workplace Fairness, most states have laws protecting workers from harassment
In general, federal law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, though some state laws cover smaller employers (for example, California workplace harassment law applies to all employers). The Department of Labor describes the two types of workplace sexual harassment.
The first type of harassment generally takes the form of a ‘This for That’ employment decision. For example, a supervisor conditions promotion on the employee’s consent to provide sexual favors.
The second type, harassment by the creation of a hostile work environment, can be more difficult to recognize and subsequently prove. Examples include:
- Discussing sexual activities
- Telling off-color or sexual jokes
- Unnecessary touching
- Commenting on physical attributes
- Displaying sexually suggestive pictures
- Using demeaning or inappropriate sexual terms or gestures
In Faragher vs. City of Boca Raton, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that these actions must be more than the “ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language . . . and occasional teasing.”
If you feel you may have experienced one of the above situations, ask yourself whether you felt the abusive conduct:
- Occurred frequently
- Was severe
- Felt physically threatening or humiliating
- Unreasonably interfered with your work performance
- Affected your psychological well-being
- Was caused by a superior within your organization
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you may have a claim.
What Should I Do If I am a Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment?
First of all, you may want to contact an attorney to determine whether you should file under federal law or under the laws of your state.
We recommend taking the following steps if you decide to proceed under federal law:
First, thoroughly document each incident, listing the date, what occurred (who said or did what), and who else was present. Also document any additional conversations on the subject you have with other employees of your organization.
Second, if it is safe and realistic, consider talking informally with the person who was abusive. He /she may sincerely apologize and stop the offensive conduct.
Third, obtain your organization’s policy regarding complaints relating to workplace sexual harassment. Follow its prescribed procedure and document everything.
Fourth, if your situation has not been satisfactorily resolved, file a complaint with the EEOC. You must file this complaint within 180 days of the incident. This deadline can become complicated if you have multiple incidents. You may need to consult an attorney for assistance.
Fifth, the EEOC will investigate and most likely attempt to resolve your claim. If the case does not settle, the EEOC will issue a right-to-sue letter which allows you to file a lawsuit in federal court. You may request this letter at any time after you file your EEOC complaint.
Finally, it is import to remember that you have 90 days from the date of the letter to file in federal court.
What Are the Possible Damages?
If you are successful, you may be awarded actual damages, including hiring, promotion or reinstatement, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. Remember: An attorney cannot predict or promise damages in any case.
Business Insider listed the eight largest sexual harassment verdicts. Number One? A $168 million award given in 2012 to Ani Chopourian, a California physician’s assistant, who was physically and verbally abused and frequently propositioned over a period of two years by doctors in the hospital where she worked.
If you believe that have been a victim of workplace sexual harassment, call 844-685-9200 now for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Our attorneys have a plethora of experience fighting against discrimination in the workplace. If a co-employee or employer has violated the Civil Rights Act you’re entitled to file suit in federal court, and could be awarded actual, compensatory, and punitive damages and be reinstated, promoted, or hired.