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In California, it is unlawful to harass an applicant or employee based on their sex. When harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests or demands for sexual favors, or any other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, it is considered sexual harassment If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in Los Angeles, California, contact Panish, Shea and Boyle, LLP for a free and confidential consultation. Our attorneys have significant experiences handling sexual harassment cases and can help you in your fight for justice.
What is Sexual Harassment?
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles workplace sexual harassment claims at the federal level and defines sexual harassment as any comments, gestures, statements, requests, or other verbal conduct of a sexual nature, that makes a workplace intimidating, offensive, or hostile.
Sexual harassment may include:
- An actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
- Requests or pressure for sexual favors.
- Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or groping. This can include kissing, hugging, patting or stroking.
- Unwanted sexual looks or gestures. Including licking lips, winking, blowing kisses and other facial expressions.
- Sexual remarks, jokes, or questions.
- Unwanted letters, telephone calls, or materials of a sexual nature.
- Pressure for dates, especially if repeated.
- Referring to an adult as a girl, hunk, doll, babe, or honey.
- Whistling at or cat calling someone.
- Turning work discussions to sexual topics.
- Sexual innuendos.
- Stories of a sexual or suggestive nature.
- Sexually suggestive hand or body movements.
- Personal questions about social or sexual life, including sexual preference or sexual history
- Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, body, or looks.
- Unwanted neck or back massage.
- Purposefully standing close to or brushing up against a person.
- Touching an employee’s clothing, hair, or body without their consent.
- Touching or rubbing oneself sexually around another person.
- Elevator eyes.
- Among many, many others.
In addition to the behavior, several criteria qualify an incident as a case of sexual harassment:
- The behavior in question must be unwelcome.
- The sexes of the offender and the victim are irrelevant. Victims and harassers may be of the same sex or opposite sexes.
- The harasser may be a coworker, third-party non-employee, supervisor, or member of another area of the organization.
- Unlawful sexual harassment does not require economic injury to the victim or discharge from employment to qualify for legal action.
- The victim may not be the recipient of the harassing behavior, but anyone who witnesses the behavior and feels affected by it.
Sexual Harassment and Employer Retaliation
The EEOC recommends that victims of sexual harassment take steps on their own to stop such behavior before seeking legal action. Among these recommendations are asking the harasser to stop, then, if the harasser does not stop when asked, pursuing an internal investigation through the organization’s Human Resources department.
Often times, however, bringing attention to a coworker or boss’s behavior may lead to adverse retaliatory action. This can include an increase in the frequency and severity of the harassment, relocation, reduction of scheduled hours, demotion or even termination. Therefore, anyone experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace is encouraged to document the behavior and any steps taken to curtail it, then speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Why Should I Pursue a Civil Claim?
While criminal prosecution seeks to punish criminal offenders, civil claims work in pursuit of justice and compensation for victims. They also help to ensure that the offender does not engage in similar behaviors ever again. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work and have already asked the harasser to stop and going up the chain of command in your organization has not worked, you only recourse may be filing a civil lawsuit. The behavior of your harasser may have caused you undue financial stress and hardship, affected your career prospects, and even inflicted significant physical, mental and emotional damage. Especially in cases where you experienced retaliatory action, the business or organization that you worked for may be protecting your harasser and allowing him or her to continue the unlawful behavior.
Federal and State Sexual Harassment Laws
The EEOC enforces a 180-day statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims. This means the victim has 180 days from the date of an incident of harassment to file an EEOC claim. If there is a state law in place restricting the harassing behavior in question (California follows such a law), this window may extend to 300 days. Federal employees have a much stricter statute of limitations to meet and only have 45 days to contact an EEOC counselor.
This strict and tight timelines mean that it is extremely important to speak with a Los Angeles sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible. Failing to do so may limit or prevent you from seeking compensation at all.
Sexual Harassment Statistics
Even though virtually every American employer provides sexual harassment training to new employees, and California has some of the most stringent anti-harassment policies of any state, sexual harassment in the workplace continues to happen throughout the spectrum of employment in the U.S. A 2017 poll conducted by the New York Times and NBC revealed that about 48% of women had experienced some type of sexual harassment in the workplace, and 41% of men witnessed some type of sexual harassment at work. In 2015 alone, the EEOC received more than 6,800 reports of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Industries where Sexual Harassment is Most Prevalent
It’s important to note that while both men and women witness and experience sexual harassment in the workplace, the vast majority of sexual harassment targets women. There are several indications as to why this happens, such as men feeling threatened by women surging through the corporate ranks and wish to “put them in their place” with sexual harassment, or women having their opinions and contributions ignored or devalued due to their sex.
Although employees in a wide variety of industries and businesses report sexual harassment, the problem tends to manifest most apparently in male-dominated industries such as construction, engineering, service-based businesses, and the scientific fields. Many women in these types of workplaces report feeling unwelcome due to sexual harassment, sex-based discrimination, and the appearance of a “boys’ club” mentality among coworkers. Women in low-wage jobs often experience sexual harassment as well.
Employer Liability for Workplace Sexual Harassment
Employers face varying degrees of liability for their employees’ actions. When it comes to sexual harassment, an employer’s liability typically depends on the harasser’s position within the company and professional relationship to the victim. Employers or company officials who qualify as proxies to the employer could incur employer liability for sexual harassment, but an immediate supervisor who harasses someone may also incur such liability since the supervisor has direct control over the employee’s working situation.
Employers will also face strict liability for quid pro quo harassment or hostile work environment harassment that occurs between immediate supervisors and direct reports. Quid pro quo literally translated to “this for that” and typically applies to situations in which an immediate supervisor offers preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors. “Hostile work environment” refers to an immediate supervisor’s behaviors that make a workplace unwelcoming, intimidating, or offensive to an employee or group of employees based on their sex.
Employers do not have to worry about strict liability for sexual harassment that occurs between coworkers of equal standing within the company, or any harassment that occurs between company employees and third parties outside the company.
Legal Remedies Available for Sexual Harassment Cases
One of the best steps any sexual harassment victim can take in such a case is to carefully document every incident of harassment and gather evidence that may include photos of the workplace (if possible or relevant), copies of internal correspondence that contains evidence of harassment, or statements from other employees. After exhausting internal conflict resolution channels, the victim should speak with a sexual harassment attorney right away.
How to Handle Sexual Harassment Retaliation
Filing a complaint for sexual harassment in the workplace is a protected action; therefore, it is illegal for an employer or supervisor to take punitive or negative actions against an employee who files such a complaint. If you have filed a complaint with your employer and encountered friction in the form of delayed processing, punitive actions, or any other type of adverse result, your employer may be liable for retaliation. Some examples of employer retaliation may include:
- Termination of employment
- Reduced hours
- Sudden changes in the employee’s schedule
- Transfer of the employee to a new department or location without justification
- Intimidation or coercion in an attempt to have the employee drop the complaint
- Increased scrutiny
- Ridicule and verbal abuse
Asserting your rights as an American employee is a protected act, and when you encounter retaliation you need legal representation you can trust. Navigating the EEOC claims and appeals processes can be challenging, and the right attorney can help you manage these while building a strong case against your harasser.
Protect Your Rights
If harassment led to your firing or forced you to leave your job, you may be able to collect compensation for your missed time from work. The same applies if an employer retaliated in the form of reduced hours, cut pay, or unpaid suspension. Sexual harassers and employers may also face liability for a harassment victim’s psychological distress and fear experienced in the workplace. Victims of sexual harassment in California need legal counsel they can rely upon to handle their DFEH and EEOC claims as well as their civil actions against the responsible parties.
At Panish, Shea & Boyle, LLP, we have more than a 99% success rate, thanks to our team’s dedication to client satisfaction and recovery. We handle civil claims for a variety of legal matters, including sexual harassment in the workplace. If you or a loved one feels like you have experienced mistreatment on the basis of your sex at work, or have encountered offensive circumstances you cannot resolve on your own, contact us in Los Angeles today. You can schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, and we can let you know what to expect from the legal process.