While sexual harassment is illegal federally and under state law, experiencing sexual misconduct at work is a daily reality for many California employees. Workers of any sex, gender, or sexual orientation can become victims of sexual harassment. However, women tend to be the most common targets, especially women of color, gay women, and transgender women. Research shows that eight in 10 women and four in 10 men experience sexual harassment or assault, yet the majority of incidents go unreported. Some victims are embarrassed to discuss the harassment or fear that it will worsen if they come forward, while others simply do not realize their rights.
If you believe you may be suffering from sexual harassment at work, read the information below to learn more about this issue, then contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams. Our Newport Beach sexual harassment lawyers can investigate your claim and help you pursue legal action against your harasser.
The definition of sexual harassment is the unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace and is a form of illegal discrimination within federal and state employment law. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from permitting sexual harassment in the workplace. They must also immediately correct these behaviors as soon as they become aware that they are occurring. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) goes a step further by not only prohibiting harassment but also requiring employers to actively prevent discriminatory conduct and harassment in the workplace.
The law recognizes two primary categories of workplace sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Depending on the circumstances, an incident of sexual harassment may fall into one or both categories.
- Quid Pro Quo
Translated from Latin as “this for that,” quid pro quo sexual harassment refers to a supervisor or another high-ranking member of a workplace conditioning a worker’s employment and benefits on their acceptance of harassing conduct. This can occur during the hiring process when a supervisor explicitly states or implies that a worker must submit to this harassment to obtain the position or at any time during employment.
Other examples include making sexual advances toward a worker that are unwanted, requesting sexual favors in exchange for benefits (such as a promotion, pay raise, or desirable assignments), or threatening to deny these benefits if the worker does not comply. Only direct victims of quid pro quo harassment can file a complaint.
- Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment develops when severe and/or pervasive sexual harassment makes workers uncomfortable and prevents them from performing their work tasks. This type of environment can be caused by several types of harassment:
- Verbal harassment is using words or threatening language to degrade, belittle, or insult someone, such as making hurtful comments or name-calling.
- Visual sexual harassment involves a harasser exposing the victim to obscene or sexually explicit imagery without their consent.
- Physical harassment can consist of unwanted touching of a person’s face, body, hair, or clothing, including grabbing, groping, brushing up against someone, blocking their movements, and sexual assault.
It is possible to suffer the negative effects of a hostile work environment even if you are not the person being harassed, such as being constantly worried about becoming a victim or dealing with unfair treatment due to a supervisor’s sexual favoritism of another worker. Unlike in quid pro quo harassment, other individuals in the workplace who experience a hostile work environment can also file a sexual harassment complaint.
Q: Who Is Liable for Workplace Sexual Harassment?
A: If your supervisor sexually harasses you, your employer is held strictly liable for all damages you incurred due to this illegal conduct, including:
- Lost income
- Lost future earning potential if you are not reinstated to your prior position
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
If your harasser is a coworker or a third party you encounter as part of your job duties, your employer is liable only if they knew or should reasonably have known of the harassment and failed to take the appropriate corrective action. Third parties include company owners, supervisors, managers, clients, customers, contractors, vendors, suppliers, and maintenance staff. If your employer is not liable for the harassment, you can still pursue legal action to hold the responsible parties liable.
Q: How Long Do I Have to File a Sexual Harassment Claim?
A: The statute of limitations for a sexual harassment claim in California depends on which government agency you file your complaint with. You have three years to file a complaint with the DFEH and 180 days to file a complaint with the EEOC, but the EEOC statute of limitations can be extended to 300 days if you are filing complaints with both agencies. However, the sooner you come forward and secure legal representation, the more time your attorney has to gather evidence and build a convincing argument that supports your claim.
Q: How Do You Win a Sexual Harassment Case?
A: To win your case, you must prove three specific elements of the harassment — it is unwanted, it is severe and/or pervasive, and it is based on a protected characteristic (such as sex, gender, or sexual orientation). Severe or pervasive means conduct that causes the work environment to become hostile, abusive, intimidating, or offensive. Less severe conduct can be considered harassment if it is pervasive, while even one incident of harassment can be actionable if it is severe enough.
Q: What Is Prohibited Retaliation?
A: This occurs when your employer takes illegal adverse employment action against you or treats you in a discriminatory manner after you report sexual harassment internally, file an official complaint, or participate in a sexual harassment investigation. Being fired (wrongful termination) is an obvious example of retaliation. However, employers could also make the working environment so hostile and intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to resign.
Take Legal Action Against Your Harasser
If you are facing sexual harassment in the workplace, it is crucial to come forward and report this unlawful behavior immediately after it occurs. A Newport Beach sexual harassment lawyer can help you determine how to proceed with your case, gather evidence that supports your complaint, and calculate the exact damages you experienced due to the harassment, including lost wages and pain and suffering. Contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams today to discuss your case and recover the compensation you deserve to move forward.
If you believe you have a legitimate claim of workplace retaliation, Corbett H. Williams is fully prepared to fight for any compensation you rightfully deserve. Cases dealing with unfair workplace actions may seem daunting, but Corbett has had experience with both sides of these issues and knows how to handle these types of cases. Don’t hesitate to call the office at 877-304-7066 to schedule a free case analysis.