Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Every employee is entitled to a safe workplace, free of harassment and abuse. When someone violates this right, whether it be the employer, manager, co-worker, or other individual, that individual should be held accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, a number of workers in the United States, both male and female, experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
Parker Waichman LLP is national law firm that offers free, no-obligation legal consultations. Contact one of our experienced attorneys today if you have any questions about filing a lawsuit over sexual harassment in the workplace.
Bill O'Reilly Sexual Harassment Allegations: Indicative of a Wider Problem
On April 1, 2017, The New York Times published an article revealing allegations of sexual harassment against Bill O'Reilly, a top-rated cable television host and political commentator. An investigation conducted by the NYT found that five women received a total of $13 million in settlements, under the condition that they did not sue or speak about their accusations against O'Reilly.
According to NYT, the women alleged that O'Reilly abused his position in a number of ways, citing inappropriate behavior, verbal abuse, and unwanted advances. There seems to be a common thread amongst the complaints. Allegedly, O'Reilly would offer professional help or advice to the women. Then, he would allegedly engage in sexual advances; some of the women said they were afraid their careers would suffer if they rejected him.
NYT reports that Fox News continued to support O'Reilly despite the allegations.
O'Reilly, who was immediately ousted after the allegations became public, is not the only high-ranking figure to end a career at Fox News over allegations of sexual harassment. In the summer of 2016, former chairman Roger Ailes was dismissed due to a sexual harassment scandal.
In an editorial article published April 22, 2017, the NYT editorial board opined that the O'Reilly allegations are indicative of more widespread problems experienced by women in the workplace. The piece, titled "For Women, It's Not Just the O'Reilly Problem," pointed to a culture of sexual harassment and inequity in the workplace. The article noted that Fox News fired O'Reilly due to financial, and not social or ethical reasons. The network let O'Reilly go not due to the allegations, but because advertisers were dropping "The O'Reilly Factor," which lowered the company's stock price.
What is Sexual Harassment?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment."
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, according to the EEOC. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, indicates that it is illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Sexual harassment in the workplace violates this Act.
Sexual harassment may affect both men and women. Examples of sexual harassment include inappropriate touching or repeated sexual jokes. Both state and federal laws address sexual harassment. Title VII contains provisions under federal law but each state may have even stricter laws regarding harassment in the workplace.
Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment
There are two categories of sexual harassment under Title VII. These are quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo means an authority figure, such as a supervisor, boss, or manager orders an employee to tolerate sexual harassment to avoid a negative impact on his or her career. For example, a department head demands that you kiss him or her to get a promotion. An employee may file a quid pro quo claim after a single instance of this type of harassment.
A hostile work environment on the other hand must demonstrate a pattern of harassment. An employee may pursue litigation over a hostile work environment when the behavior involves sex, is unwanted, and is severe or persistent enough to create an abusive or offensive working environment. When assessing a hostile work environment harassment claim, courts usually look at whether the conduct was physical or verbal, how often the behavior occurred, and whether it was hostile or offensive. The courts also consider the position/role of the alleged harasser, whether the harasser was alone in his or her actions, and whether more individuals were subject to the alleged harassment.
When pursuing legal action over sexual harassment, the case must meet certain criteria. The plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she found the alleged behavior to be hostile, abusive, or offensive. Additionally, the plaintiff must show that a reasonable person in the same position would also consider the behavior to hostile, abusive, or offensive.
When Can You Sue for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Title VII only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. If your employer has fewer than 15 employees, the employer is then governed by state laws on sexual harassment. Most states have laws addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. A worker may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against his or her employer if the individual is able to demonstrate quid pro quo or a hostile work environment. The plaintiff may be able to sue for compensatory damages such as economic loss and pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages, which are awarded as an additional form of punishment against the liable party.
The liable party in a sexual harassment case may vary based on who committed the harassment and what measures the employer took to correct these violations.
An employer may be liable if a company supervisor committed harassment and the victim suffered from a tangible employment action. For example, a worker was fired or demoted after refusing to kiss his or her boss.
You can also sue your employer if the harasser is a superior who created a hostile work environment. Employers are only shielded from liability in these scenarios by showing that they made a reasonable effort to prevent and correct these actions, and that the employee unreasonably refused these corrective actions.
A sexual harassment lawsuit may also be filed when the harassment was committed by a co-worker and the employer knew or should have known about the harassment. The employer is only shielded if it addressed this issue immediately.
Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If you encounter sexual harassment in the workplace, try to end it yourself immediately. Look at your employee handbook and read your company's policies on sexual harassment. Document everything that happens, including every time a harassment behavior occurs and what actions your company took to address these actions. Creating a paper trail of the conduct will strengthen your lawsuit.
Although it may be uncomfortable, tell the harasser that you find his or her actions offensive or inappropriate. You can tell the alleged harasser directly or write an email. If you do not want to handle this directly, you can tell your supervisor about the situation. When informing your supervisor, make sure you email them from a company email. You want to have proof of all your actions, as well as the actions taken by the company.
You may also approach human resources or send your complaint to the next level if your concerns are not addressed.
Filing a Lawsuit for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Parker Waichman has years of experience representing clients in various lawsuits. If you or someone you know is interested in filing a lawsuit over sexual harassment in the workplace, contact one of our experienced lawyers today. Our firm offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).