It’s an unfortunate reality that sexual harassment negatively affects the lives of thousands of people across the United States each year. When an individual experiences sexual harassment in the workplace, they have the right to take legal action against the party responsible for the adverse treatment they experience. However, navigating a sexual harassment claim is more complex than many people may assume. First, there’s the standard definition of sexual harassment most people recognize, which applies to things like catcalling on the street and inappropriate comments from strangers, but to succeed with a sexual harassment claim, it’s vital to meet the burden of proof for the legal definition of sexual harassment.
Types of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Every American employee has certain legal protections at the state and federal levels. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and defines two types of sexual harassment that might occur at work: hostile work environment and quid pro quo.
- “Hostile work environment” applies in situations in which the harassment is severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive or hostile atmosphere. Repeated offensive sexual jokes and comments, inappropriate touching, pornographic displays, and unwelcome sexual advances are a few examples of how an employee might experience a hostile work environment. Typically, an employee who intends to pursue a sexual harassment claim for a hostile work environment must provide evidence that they experienced a pattern of behavior. A single incident is may not be enough to substantiate a claim of a hostile work environment sexual harasssment However, a single incident may be enough to create a hostile work environment if it is sufficiently severe.
- “Quid pro quo” translates to “this for that” or “something for something,” indicating an exchange. This type of sexual harassment occurs when an employer, supervisor, or manager offers to give an employee some work-related benefits for sexual favors. It’s also possible for quid pro quo to apply if the employer demands sexual favors to prevent adverse work-related effects on an employee. Ultimately, any proposed exchange of sexual favors for favorable treatment at work can constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment.
If you believe you have experienced either form of sexual harassment in the workplace, an experienced employment attorney is a fantastic asset to have on your side if you want to determine the best method for navigating your legal options.
Proving Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
When an employee believes the employer or supervisor has engaged in unlawful quid pro quo sexual harassment, he or she must be able to prove several facts to succeed with their claim:
- The employee must provide evidence that he or she was subject to unwelcome sexual advances by the harasser or engaged in other unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.
- The employee must prove that his or her participation in the requested sexual acts was a condition of receiving job-related benefits or that their refusal to participate in the requested sexual acts would lead to a job-related detriment.
- The employee must also prove that the employer was responsible for the harassing party’s conduct. For example, the harasser was a supervisor or employer did not enforce an anti-sexual harassment policy in the workplace.
Your attorney can help you determine what kind of evidence you may need to gather to substantiate your quid pro quo sexual harassment claim. This may include internal communications through your work channels, such as email and text-based messaging platforms or witness statements.
Common examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment include offering an employee a promotion, pay increase, or other work-related benefits in exchange for sexual favors, or demanding sexual favors from an employee and threatening to fire them if they do not comply. In addition, it’s common for these types of situations to involve additional complaints, such as sexual assault and sexual battery.
Proving Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
The burden of proof in a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim is similar to the burden of proof for quid pro quo with a few exceptions:
- The employee must prove that they were subject to unwelcome harassment of a sexual nature.
- The employee must prove that the harassment was severe or pervasive enough to alter the terms of employment (i.e., create a hostile or abusive work environment).
- The employee must prove that his or her employer knew or should have known about the harassment but failed to stop it. Alternatively, the employer will be liable if the harasser is a supervisor or holds an important position within the organization.
When the court reviews a hostile work environment claim, it assess whether the harassment experienced by the employee would qualify as offensive to a reasonable person and assess the factual evidence surrounding the claimant’s experiences.
Remedies for sexual harassment include monetary compensation for emotional, mental and psychological suffering, bodily harm, punitive damages, past and future medical costs, lost wages and attorney’s fees.
Benefits of Working With an Experienced Employment Attorney
It’s natural to feel isolated and uncertain after experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. It can be equally distressing to review the requirements of proving sexual harassment in the workplace. Before you can file a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment, you must obtain a “right to sue” letter from either the California Department of Fair Employment and Hosing (DFEH) or the federal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The DFEH and EEOC are agencies agency tasked with investigating complaints of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
An employment lawyer can assist you in obtaining a “right to sue” letter from the DFEH or the EEOC. Once a complaint is filed, the agency may request supporting evidence and additional documentation as they process your claim. If the agency determines you have valid grounds for legal action it may take action against the employer itself. Alternatively, the agency will issue a Notice of Your Right to Sue (right to sue letter), allowing you to file your lawsuit. A right to sue letter can also be obtained immediately without the need for the DFEH or EEOC to conduct an investigation. An employment lawyer can accomplish this on your behalf.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams can provide the legal guidance you need in this kind of difficult situation. We understand that sexual harassment is alienating, traumatizing, and humiliating, and no one should be subject to this type of behavior in the workplace. Contact us today for more information about how our firm can assist you with your sexual harassment claim.