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Sexual Harassment

Yes, this still happens. Many people believe that with all the sensitivity training and emphasis on avoiding lawsuits, sexual harassment would all but be eliminated. Not so. Sexual harassment is alive and well.

There are two types of sexual harassment: (1) hostile environment sexual harassment; and (2) quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Hostile environment sexual harassment exists when a co-worker makes sexual advances toward another to such a great extent that it adversely affects the other person’s conditions of employment. An occasional sexual comment is not enough. The sexual harassment must be consistent and prevalent. Asking someone out on a date is also not enough as long as the requesting party can take "no" for an answer and does not continue to harass and badger the other person, and does not make life at work difficult for the other party for rejecting the request.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment exists when a supervisor pressures a subordinate for sexual favors in exchange for promotions, favorable job assignments, for staying employed or some other job benefit.

However, even if you have experienced one of these two types of sexual harassment, it does not automatically mean that you are entitled to lots of money from your employer. Employers can, and often do, insulate themselves from liability by maintaining written policies against sexual harassment and by taking immediate action to reprimand or terminate the harasser. The courts have found that if an employer takes these measures, it may avoid liability.

Is there "same sex" sexual harassment?

Absolutely. As gay lifestyles are becoming more and more accepted, "same sex" sexual harassment is on the rise. If you have experienced "same sex" sexual harassment, the law protects you as well.

Is there such a thing as reverse sexual harassment?

Yes. The first lawsuits for sexual harassment involved male to female sexual harassment. However, more and more women are becoming the aggressors. If you are a male who has been sexually harassed, the law protects you as well.

What should I do if I am being sexually harassed?

The first thing you should do is submit a written compaint to your human resource director, or to the harassers boss. It is critifcal that this complaint be in writing so that you can prove that you did complain. If the employer takes immediate action to reprimand the harasser, you will not be able to sue the employer. If the employer takes no action and the harassment continues, you may be able to sue the employer.

The second thing you should do is file an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The law requires that you file this administrative complaint before you file a lawsuit. The EEOC will typically initiate an investigation and ask the parties to mediate the dispute.

Filing an EEOC complaint has an additional advantage. Once you file your EEOC complaint, if your employer fires you or begins to make life difficult for you, you may have an additional complaint for retaliation. Retaliation counts as a separate offense. Therefore, even if your original sexual harassment claim was not well founded, your claim of retaliation may win you the case.

What if I am falsely accused of sexual harassment?

These days, big companies are so hypersensitive about sexual harassment complaints that they often reprimand or terminate the accused harasser without much of an investigation. When this happens, it damages the reputation of the accused person, sometimes beyond repair. If you have been terminated and your employer specifically states or writes that the reason for termination is sexual harassment, you may have grounds for a libel or slander lawsuit . . . that is . . . if you are innocent and you can prove it. Keep in mind that anytime you sue someone for libel or slander, you put your own reputation at issue and it is legal for your opponent to go into every aspect of your reputation. In addition, keep in mind that your employer is aware of the potential for a libel or slander lawsuit. Therefore, your employer may not specify a reason for terminating you. If you live in an "at will employment" state, your employer is not obligated to give you a reason for termination. Unless you are specifically told that you are being terminated for sexual harassment, you do not have a potential libel or slander claim.

If you have any questions about sexual harassment, contact us.