Sexual harassment is one of the biggest issues facing employees in every industry. While Hollywood and Harvey Weinstein’s exploits recently shone the media spotlight on the problem and #MeToo accounts are pervasive, we’ve known about the insidious grip of harassment in the workplace for years. Whether harassment is male on female or same-sex, it is usually based on an unequal power dynamic where the harasser wields his or her influence in the workplace over the victim. Wherever on the ladder the conduct falls, from leering looks or sporadic sexual comments at the bottom to physical assault at the top, Sexual harassment is completely illegal and justice is only limited by employees’ fear of rocking the boat, and victims’ tendency to blame themselves. If you’ve been harassed in any manner at all, or if you feel that you are stuck in a hostile work environment, it’s important that you take the first step by at least recognizing that fact and reaching out. Calling our firm doesn’t commit you to filing a lawsuit or even taking any action. We’ll keep your account of what happened completely confidential, and simply advise you of your options.
As far as the law, sexual harassment is a form of workplace discrimination which has received increasing attention in the courts since its legal recognition nearly forty years ago. Sexual harassment has grown from its original quid pro quo formulation to include harassment by peers and the creation of hostile environments.
In the classic quid pro quo case, a supervisor is conditioning some facet of employment on sexual favors. The aspect of employment could be a raise or promotion, more favorable working conditions, or keeping one's job altogether. Sexual favors can range from agreeing to see the supervisor socially to outright demands for sex. While asking a subordinate out on a date is not sexual harassment per se, any conditioning of favorable or unfavorable job action on the employee's acceptance or refusal can be the basis for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
While quid pro quo discrimination still occurs, the majority of cases these days involve claims of a hostile work environment. A hostile environment is created by the presence of unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is pervasive to a degree that the conduct creates an intimidating atmosphere that interferes with employee performance. While a hostile environment cannot be specifically defined, examples of behavior that could create a hostile environment include:
- Unwelcome touching; impeding or blocking movements
- Verbal sexual abuse: sexually explicit language, "dirty jokes," inappropriate comments
- Sexually suggestive letters or notes, graffiti in bathrooms, pornographic pictures or cartoons in workspaces, locker rooms or lounges
- Obscene, rude, or inappropriate gestures
Most recently, the law in this area has evolved to include harassment by peers (not just supervisors), reverse discrimination (women harassing males), and issues of same-sex harassment (males harassing males; females harassing females).
As you’ve no doubt seen from #MeToo, there are millions of people who have been harassed, assaulted, demeaned or otherwise been the target of unwanted sexual conduct – typically at the hands of a boss or some kind of authority/power figure. Up to now, a conspiracy of silence existed that protected harassers. Victims’ tendency to blame themselves, to fear retaliation for making a report of harassment, slut shaming or otherwise calling attention to themselves allowed abusers to operate year after year, preying on one young employee or actress after the next, after the next. Hopefully, #MeToo won’t be forgotten with the next news cycle and will change something. Behavior can change if people come forward. Acknowledge what happened or is happening, and let your voice be heard.
If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment, contact the Carter Law Firm today to discuss with us what happened. We will give you a warm and unhurried chance to share your experience, and advise you of your legal options, which you’ll then be free to pursue, or not. You should know that you can’t be fired, demoted or otherwise be treated poorly by your company for coming forward – that’s called “retaliation,” and it’s grounds for yet another (winning) lawsuit.