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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee (e.g., a customer or supplier).
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but could be anyone affectedby the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury or discharge (firing) of the victim.
  • The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

Anyone can be harassed sexually

Sexual harassment cannot happen only to women employees, even men employees are sexually harassed. If men can sexually harass women, women are also subjecting men to sexual harassment.

Employees of the same sex can sexually harass each other, if the harassment is of heterosexual nature. Example, if an employee constantly bombards another employee to explicit photos, explicit sexual jokes, and that makes him uncomfortable, and if it persists after his continued objection, it amounts to sexual harassment.

Examples of Sexual harassment

  • A factory worker was subjected to taunts disparaging his masculinity. Such gender stereotyping is unlawful under Title VII.
    (EEOC v. Grief Bros. Corp. WDNY)
  • Title VII covers complaint by transsexual professor that she should not be required to use the men's bathroom.
    (Kastl v. Maricopa County Community College (D. Ariz.))
  • The United States Supreme Court decided that a police officer who was a victim of sexual harassment can pursue a claim after resigning – also known as being constructively discharged – if the last straw was a supervisor’s official act.
  • A raise and promotion because a woman "silently suffered" sexual advances is not a tangible employment action. The employer's swift corrective action after the woman complained resulted in the dismissal of her case. Her claim that she delayed complaining because she had to collect evidence and determine whether the harasser was simply "interested" or a "predator" did not excuse the delay of her complaint.
    (Matvia v. Bald Head Island Management Inc. 4th Cir.)
  • A laboratory technician claimed sexual harassment and retaliation. A jury awarded $100,000 in punitive damages, but no actual or compensatory damages. This was permitted by the Second Circuit.
    (Cush-Crawford v. Adchem Corp.)
  • A sex discrimination plaintiff alleging "garden variety" emotional distress damages must disclose medial and psychological records.
    (Owens v. Sprint, D. Kan.)
  • A day care center manager alleged that she was fired for complaining about her boss' opposition to hiring male teachers. She is entitled to a trial because she may have been discharged for opposing a discriminatory employment practice.
    (O'Shea v. Childtime Childcare Inc., N.D.N.Y.)

(Source: EEO

The Federal Law that covers sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of sexual discrimination and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Title VII classifies sexual harassment claims into two categories:
1. quid pro quo (an equal exchange or substitution)
2. hostile work environment

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when an individual who holds a superior position to another employee links the employee's terms of employment with positive responses to the superior's sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other forms of physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
  • Hostile work environment is when the conduct is unwelcome, based on sex, and severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of the employee's employment and create an abusive working environment. Typically, these are situations where sexual insinuation is used in discussions between employees, where off-color, sexually-oriented jokes are told, or where offensive visual material of a sexual nature is displayed openly.

Types of sexual harassment

  • Physical harassment involves physical contact, such as caressing, massaging, patting, pinching, or otherwise touching any part of a person, or staring indiscreetly at someone in a sexual manner.
  • Verbal harassment includes “complimenting” someone on his/her appearance with reference to a specific part of his/her anatomy;
  • telling a sexually-oriented joke within hearing distance of others;
  • name-calling, belittling, or using sexually-explicit or degrading words to describe an individual, race, religion, etc.;sexual orientation—telling sexually-explicit jokes
  • asking questions about a person’s sexual practices;
  • using patronizing terms or remarks; verbal abuse, such as persistently asking a co-worker to go on a date, when the co-worker is uninterested in the proposition;
  • following or stalking an individual; making a threat of demotion, termination, etc., if requested sexual favors are not given;
  • making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances; or propositioning the individual.
  • Visual harassment includes exhibiting sexually-oriented visuals (e.g., posters, drawings, photos, clippings, screen-savers or emails of a sexual nature, such as pictures of nude or scantily-dressedwomen or men.

If an employee is subjected to sexually-offensive behavior, it is better if he/she tells the person in question that such offensive behavior is unwelcome and must stop. The person might get the hint and stop. But if the behavior continues, it is better to notify a senior authority or the human resources (personnel) department. If it still persists, the employee can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and seek possible damages. (Form Letters protesting sexual harassment and race harassment are available on this site, and a Form to file a complaint against sex/race harassment is also available.)

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