If you believe you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams at 949-679-9909. You can also contact us using the contact form on this website and we will respond promptly.
It may be difficult to believe, but sexual harassment remains a major problem in the twenty-first century workplace. A recent study of over 2,000 full-time and part-time women employees found that one-third of women had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their working lives. Sexual harassment isn’t limited to women however, men can be victims too.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms and isn’t always about sex. It can be about a person’s gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity. It can include unwanted touching, sexual slurs, jokes, or comments, displaying inappropriate pictures or other materials, persistent leering, and sending unwanted sexual emails or text messages.
Regardless of the actual conduct, sexual harassment is always a corrosive factor in the workplace and can take a severe mental and emotional toll on victims.
Thankfully, California law gives employees powerful tools to fight against sexual harassment. If you are experienceing sexual harassment at work, there are some important steps you should take, including reporting the harassment and documenting it in writing.
The law generally recognizes two different types or categories of sexual harassment. The first is called “quid pro quo,” which is Latin and translates as “this for that.” In quid pro quo sexual harassment, an employment benefit, such as a promotion, a raise, or the job itself, is conditioned on the employee’s acceptance of a supervisor’s harassing conduct—sexual advances, for example.
The other commonly recognized form of sexual harassment is called “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. In a hostile work environment case, a supervisor’s or co-worker’s harassing conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment for the victim. You don’t have to be the direct target of harassing conduct to file a hostile work environment claim. All the law requires is that the employee prove that he or she is the victim of a hostile work environment. A woman who witnesses her co-worker being propositioned and groped would, for example, have a claim for hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Because the legal standard in California for hostile work environment sexual harassment is severe OR pervasive, even a single instance of harassment can be enough, if it is SEVERE enough. Contrastingly, less severe conduct is actionable if it is PERVASIVE enough.
Who Is Doing the Harassing? (Supervisor versus Co-Worker)
In California, if the harassment is by a supervisor, the employer will be held strictly liable. In other words, if the employee can prove 1) that unlawful harassment occurred and 2) that it was by a supervisor, the employer will have no defense to liability. On the other hand, if the harasser is a co-worker, the employer will be liable only if a supervisor knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take corrective action.
An employer can also be liable for harassment by a customer or another person the employee comes into contact with as part of the job, if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment.
What Damages Can I Recover If I’m the Victim of Sexual Harassment?
Successful plaintiffs can recover lost wages, compensation of other economic losses, emotional distress damages, interest and attorney fees. Punitive damages, which are designed to punish and to deter other employers from engaging in similar conduct, can be awarded in cases where the employer’s officers, directors or managing agents knew of the harassment.