Toward the end of 2017, Americans saw new levels of respect being shown to women who shared their stories about sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, articles noted that the #MeToo campaign produced repercussions that might never have happened if the same claims had been filed in court. Men in high places – including TV newsmen Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose – suddenly found themselves held accountable for alleged acts of sexual misconduct in the workplace. The truth seemed to be finally breaking free.
Fortunately, there are numerous federal statutes, regulations and cases that can help support valid claims. Here’s a review of several of them, along with a brief look at some of the most common, forbidden behaviors often alleged in these cases. The chilling effect that retaliation often has on those who report sexual harassment is also addressed.
Federal Statues and EEOC Guidelines That Address Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits discrimination in employment based on color, race, sex, religion and national origin. Therefore, an employer cannot treat any one employee (or group of employees) in a negative, discriminatory action based entirely on sex.
EEOC Guidelines indicate that two main types of sexual harassment cases can be filed.
Quid pro quo actions. These are based on claims that the sexually harassed individual had to trade sexual favors of some sort with a supervisor to receive specific employee benefits. The courts will look at whether the sexual advances were unwelcome – as opposed to whether the abused party engaged in the sexual activity on a voluntary basis. (These types of cases cannot be brought based on the behavior of one’s coworkers).
Hostile work environment claims. Supervisors cannot allow (or personally make) ongoing derogatory comments about female (or male) employees. Likewise, a co-worker is not allowed to take actions of a sexual nature that negatively affect another person’s terms or conditions of employment. During these types of cases, courts inquire into the types of employment conditions that are affected.
Unfortunately, when a co-worker is the accused wrongdoer, the plaintiff must also prove that the employer either directly knew about the wrongful behavior – or should have known.
Do Many Men or Women Often Present False Claims of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Most people find no pleasure in describing how others have mistreated them. And many recent stories have not been tied to survivors seeking financial compensation (although that’s a very valid response when you’ve been fired or had your job security threatened.)
Furthermore, research indicates that only about five to seven percent of workplace sexual harassment claims brought are false. That includes all claims filed in hopes of obtaining monetary compensation for the alleged abuse.
People who have never endured incidents of gross sexual harassment fail to understand that those who’ve been mistreated are often greatly traumatized. Due to the intense fear that such harassment causes, most victims never report it. And other may wait a long time to speak up because they know that no one may believe them.
What Actually Constitutes Sexual Harassment at Work?
Stated in simple terms, a worker (or job applicant) is sexually harassed when forced to endure unwelcome sexual touching or advances, crude sexual jokes – or behavior implying that the victim’s job status will be threatened if certain sexual favors are not performed.
Perhaps the most comprehensive list of behaviors that constitute sexual harassment are set forth on the United Nations website. Here’s a sampling of the many examples listed there.
Constantly asking someone else out on a date – long after they’ve turned you down. No one appreciates this type of behavior and it can quickly become tormenting;
Touching another worker in a suggestive, sexual manner. Rubbing up against someone on purpose is never okay;
Using your fingers, hands or other body parts to indicate desired sexual activity. All attempts to simulate sex acts with your body are forbidden;
Putting up offensive cartoons or drawings in your work area that you know are likely to be offensive to members of the opposite sex;
Making so-called “cat calls” or whistling at someone based on their looks;
Making up false sexual rumors about employees and spreading them around. This is never okay and often contributes to a hostile work environment;
Telling off-color sexual jokes or stories. Both men and women deserve the right to go to work and simply concentrate on their assigned duties;
Staring at someone as though you’re “sizing them up” in a sexual manner;
Saying ugly things that are intended to demean all women — or imply that they’re inferior to men. This type of “grade school” behavior is far too common in many offices;
Using terms like “Baby,” “Doll,” “Honey” or “Sugar” for women while normally calling all men by their preferred, given names.
Are Women Ever Sued for Sexual Harassment (SH)?
Although its less common, women do have claims brought against them. In fact, Cristina Garcia, a California Assemblywoman and a major women’s rights activist was accused of sexually harassing a man. He said she fired him due to his refusal to play “spin the bottle” with her. This type of harassment can also occur between parties of the same sex – although the complaining party must carefully prove that the illegal and unwanted behavior was of a sexual nature.
Do Many People Who Report SH Experience Retaliation?
Although estimates vary, perhaps as many as 75% of those who speak up about sexual harassment in the workplace experience retaliation. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addresses this problem, by the time retaliation occurs, a person’s ability to hold down the same job (after reporting harassment) may be irreparably damaged.
Also, separate and apart from retaliation, people who report harassment are often branded as “troublemakers” – making it hard for them to find desirable future jobs in their chosen professions.
If you believe that you’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace, be sure to contact your New York personal injury attorney right away. We can share our advice with you, obtain copies of all pertinent employment records — and help you decide if you should file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your injuries and losses. Our experience helps us obtain generous settlements and verdicts in many lawsuits.