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Can You Sue for Sexual Harassment?

April 29, 2023

In recent years, social media has become a powerful tool for raising awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in various industries, and have empowered many individuals to speak out about their experiences, resulting in many sexual harassment cases, including many high-profile cases. Despite this increased awareness, many people are still unsure of their legal rights when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.

If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, you might be wondering if you can sue for sexual harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace refers to any unwelcome sexual conduct or behavior that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. This can include physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct that is sexual in nature. Sexual harassment can be committed by co-workers, employers, or supervisors, and can happen in any industry or workplace setting.

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination, and it is illegal in the workplace. This means that employers have a legal obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Examples of behavior that can constitute sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • Physical acts of sexual assault or battery, such as unwanted touching, groping, or kissing.
  • Requests for sexual favors, such as offering employment benefits or promotions in exchange for sexual favors.
  • Verbal harassment that is sexual in nature, such as making sexually suggestive comments, jokes, or gestures.
  • Making fun of someone's gender or sexual identity, or using derogatory language or slurs.
  • Unwanted physical advances, such as blocking someone's path or standing too close to them.
  • Talking about sexual encounters or fantasies.
  • Sending explicit sexual photos, videos, text messages, or emails.
  • Whistling or catcalling.

Even a single instance of sexual harassment can be considered illegal if it is severe enough. If you have experienced any of these behaviors in the workplace, you might be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party, depending on the circumstances and if they fall under the type of claim that would be recognized by federal law, state law, or California sexual harassment laws.

Types of Sexual Harassment Claims

There are two types of workplace sexual harassment claims recognized by law: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

  1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employer or supervisor makes employment decisions based on an employee's acceptance or rejection of sexual advances. For example, an employer may offer a promotion in exchange for sexual favors, or threaten to fire an employee if they do not comply with sexual demands.
  2. Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when the workplace is permeated with unwelcome sexual conduct that creates an abusive or intimidating work environment. This can include things such as physical touching, lewd comments, or repeated requests for dates. A single incident may not be enough to create a hostile work environment, but if the behavior is frequent and severe enough to create an abusive work environment, then it may qualify as sexual harassment.

If you believe you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace and are wondering if you can sue your employer, it's important to take action as soon as possible. This includes speaking up about the harassment, following company guidelines for reporting, and reporting the harassment to your company's human resources department. You may also want to work with a law firm who has a competent sexual harassment attorney to file a formal complaint with a governmental agency if the harassment continues.

Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment

In addition to the at-fault party, employers can also be held liable for sexual harassment committed by their employees or supervisors in the workplace. This is because employers have a legal obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Employers can be held liable for sexual harassment in the following ways:

  • Failing to prevent sexual harassment: Employers are required to take steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. This includes creating and enforcing anti-harassment policies, providing training to employees and supervisors, and promptly investigating and addressing any reports of sexual harassment.
  • Failing to address sexual harassment: If an employer becomes aware of sexual harassment in the workplace and fails to take appropriate action, they can be held liable for any damages caused by the harassment.
  • Retaliation: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report sexual harassment in the workplace. This can include firing, demoting, or otherwise punishing the employee who reported the harassment.
  • Creating a hostile work environment: If an employer engages in or permits behavior that creates a hostile work environment, they can be held liable for any damages caused by the harassment.

Even if the harasser is not an employee of the company, the employer can still be held liable for the harassment if they knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take appropriate action.

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it's important to report the harassment to your employer and follow their reporting procedures. If your employer fails to take appropriate action or retaliates against you, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against your employer.

Suing for Sexual Harassment

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and your employer has failed to take appropriate action, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against your employer. This is because employers have a legal obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace, and failure to do so can result in legal consequences.

If you decide to file a lawsuit for sexual harassment, you may be able to recover damages for a variety of losses, including lost wages, medical expenses, emotional distress, and pain and suffering. In addition, you may be entitled to punitive damages, which are intended to punish the at-fault party for their actions.

To file a lawsuit for sexual harassment, you will need to work with a qualified lawyer who specializes in employment law. Your employment lawyer will help you understand your legal rights and options, gather evidence to support your case, and represent you in court.

It's important to note that suing for sexual harassment can be a long and difficult process. It's important to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of filing a lawsuit before making a decision. In addition, there are strict deadlines for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit, so it's important to take action as soon as possible.

Don't be afraid to speak up and take action to protect yourself and pursue justice for any damages caused by the harassment. A qualified lawyer can help you understand your options and take the steps necessary to hold the at-fault party accountable.

Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind when suing for sexual harassment:

  • Statute of limitations: There are strict time limits for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit, so it's important to act quickly. The time limit for filing a claim can vary depending on the state and the circumstances of the case.
  • Burden of proof: In a sexual harassment lawsuit, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. This means that you will need to provide evidence to support your claim of sexual harassment, such as witnesses, emails, text messages, or other documentation.
  • Legal costs: Suing for sexual harassment can be expensive, as you may need to pay for legal fees and other expenses. Some lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means that they only get paid if you win your case. It's important to discuss legal costs with your lawyer before proceeding with a lawsuit.
  • Retaliation: It's illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit. This can include firing, demoting, or otherwise punishing you for taking legal action.
  • Settlements: In some cases, the at-fault party may offer a settlement to avoid going to court. It's important to discuss settlement options with your lawyer to determine if it's the right choice for you.

Keep in mind that every case is unique, and the outcome of a sexual harassment lawsuit can depend on many different factors. An experienced sexual harassment lawyer can help you understand your legal options and take the steps necessary to pursue justice for any damages caused by the harassment.

Employer Responsibility to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Employers have a legal obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. To avoid liability for sexual harassment, employers must take reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place. This includes having clear policies and procedures in place for reporting and investigating sexual harassment, as well as providing training to employees to prevent harassment from occurring.

If an employer becomes aware of sexual harassment in the workplace, they are required by law to take immediate and appropriate action to address the issue. This may include:

  • Conducting an investigation
  • Disciplining the at-fault party
  • Taking steps to ensure that the behavior does not continue

If an employer fails to take appropriate action or retaliates against an employee for reporting sexual harassment, the employer may be held liable for damages caused by the harassment. In some cases, the employer may be required to pay compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the victim for any losses or harm caused by the harassment.

Employers can be held liable for sexual harassment committed by anyone in the workplace, including co-workers, supervisors, and even non-employees, such as customers or clients.

In the event of harassment committed by non-employees (e.g., independent contractors or customers present on the premises) over whom the employer has control, the employer can be held accountable if they had knowledge or ought to have had knowledge of the harassment, and yet neglected to take swift and adequate corrective measures.

Additional Things to Know about Sexual Harassment at Work

If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it's important to know your rights and take appropriate action to protect yourself. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Sexual Harassment Can Take Many Forms: Sexual harassment can include physical acts, verbal harassment, or unwanted advances. It can also include inappropriate jokes, comments, or gestures that make an employee feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. It's important to recognize that sexual harassment can take many different forms and can be committed by anyone in the workplace.
  • You Have the Right to Report Sexual Harassment: If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you have the right to report it to your employer. Your employer is required by law to investigate and address any complaints of sexual harassment. If your employer fails to take appropriate action, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against your employer.
  • Keep Records of the Harassment: If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it's important to keep detailed records of the harassment. This can include emails, text messages, or other documentation that can support your claim of sexual harassment. Having a record of the harassment can be useful if you decide to file a lawsuit.
  • Be Aware of the "Severe or Pervasive" Standard: In order to be considered sexual harassment, the behavior must be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. This means that isolated incidents of inappropriate behavior may not be enough to support a claim of sexual harassment. However, if the behavior is severe or happens frequently enough to create a hostile work environment, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.
  • Retaliation is Illegal: It's illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment or for taking legal action against the at-fault party. If you experience retaliation, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against your employer.
  • Don't Quit Your Job: If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, it's important to take appropriate action to address the issue. However, it's not advisable to quit your job without consulting a lawyer first. Quitting your job can have legal implications and may affect your ability to pursue a claim of sexual harassment.

Remember, if you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you have legal rights and options. Don't be afraid to speak up and take action to protect yourself and pursue justice for any damages caused by the harassment. A qualified lawyer can help you understand your options and take the steps necessary to hold the at-fault party accountable.

So, can you sue a company for sexual harassment? The answer is, it depends. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against the at-fault party or your employer and The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak can help you determine if you have a case and understand your legal options. If you do have a case we will help you take the necessary steps to protect your rights and pursue justice for any damages caused by the harassment. Call us today for a Free Consultation.

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