Everyone has the legal right to a workplace free from sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, according to some studies, over 80 percent of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment.
However, in 2017, with the #MeToo Movement, employees began to feel more empowered against those who chose to engage in harassing behavior. Since then, tens of thousands of employees across the country have spoken up, reported their experiences and taken action to hold employers accountable for their actions.
At the McCormack Law Firm, we represent employees in sexual harassment claims against employers. Our attorneys have over 20 years of experience and a wealth of knowledge on the state and federal laws that employers must adhere to.
More than 86 percent of women and 53 percent of men report having experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault in their career in California.
Most instances of sexual harassment go unreported
According to a recent study, between 87 and 94 percent of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint.
Additionally, eighty percent of lesbian and bisexual women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. According to a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan Magazine, when women were asked to identify the person or people who engaged in harassing behavior:
• Seventy-Five percent said it was a male colleague
• Forty-Nine percent said it was a male customer
• Thirty-Eight percent said it was a male manager
• Ten percent said it was a female manager
What is workplace sexual harassment?
There is no exact legal definition of "sexual harassment." It can come in many forms, and every situation is different. The perpetrator could be a supervisor, co-worker, customer, contractor or vendor. The harassment may happen at the workplace or outside of work. Some common situations include:
Pressure. For sex, physical contact, or romantic involvement.
Personal questions. Inappropriate questions about your intimate life.
Sexual stories. Rumors, gossip, innuendo or jokes of sexual nature.
Inappropriate comments. Making inappropriate sexual comments at a co-worker.
Whistling or catcalls. And inappropriate touching.
Linking employment, raise, or a promotion to sexual activity.
Threats to terminate. Firing or denying opportunities if you report sexual harassment.
Any other form of behavior. You think is sexual in nature and unwelcome.
Do I Have a Legal Case for Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment has long been illegal under both state and federal law. Title VII to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and California's Fair Employment and Housing Act both prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Because every story is different, there is no clear-cut rule to determine what makes a strong sexual harassment case.
To establish if there is sexual harassment, courts often consider these factors:
There is no simple rule to determine if sexual harassment is severe or frequent enough for a strong case.
A single event could be the basis of a sexual harassment case, if it is relatively serious, like touching or "quid-pro-quo" harassment. ("Quid pro quo" is a severe form of sexual harassment.) Other types of harassment, such as rude comments, can also be the basis of a legal claim if they happen often enough to create a "hostile work environment"—especially if the employer does not take action to stop it.
Not all rude, annoying or offensive behavior will necessarily rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. Under the EEOC's guidelines, "petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality."
As there are no black-and-white rules, it is best to consult with an experienced employment attorney about your specific situation.
What Is "Quid-Pro-Quo" Sexual Harassment?
"Quid pro quo" is a Latin legal term meaning to exchange "this, for that." Regarding sexual harassment, it means that someone offers a job, raise, promotion or another work opportunity, in exchange for sexual or romantic involvement.
Remedies in a California Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Plaintiffs who prevail in a sexual harassment lawsuit might be able to recover any lost wages due to wrongful termination or missing work, as well as compensatory damages, such as emotional distress, and punitive damages if the behavior of the employer was found to be egregious.
What Is a "Hostile Work Environment?”
In sexual harassment law, a "hostile work environment" means that the unwelcome sexual conduct is so severe or happens so often that it turns your job into an abusive environment. There is no exact rule for how severe the harassment has to be or how many times it has to happen. Courts often apply the standard of whether a "reasonable person" would think that sexual harassment turned your work into a hostile environment.
At the McCormack Law Firm, attorney Bryan McCormack has been successfully representing employees in California quid pro quo and hostile work environment cases for the past 20 years. Through his compassionate, yet aggressive, style of representation, he can help hold responsible employers accountable for their actions.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Sexually Harassed at Work?
Do not encourage the harassment
Tell the person to stop if you feel safe in doing so. Do not agree to see the person outside of work or join in on any sexual talk.
Take notes and keep evidence
Write down what happened, the date, and who was present. Keep copies of any pictures, emails, text messages or other evidence.
File a report in writing and keep a copy
Some sexual harassment lawsuits have failed because the employer successfully argued they were not aware of the problem. You can report the issue to your manager, a different manager, a higher-level manager, or Human Resources. Check your employee handbook. Or contact an attorney if there is truly no one you can report to.
Cooperate with the investigation
Your employer should conduct an inquiry and let you know the results. If you do not hear back after a reasonable time, follow-up in writing, and keep a copy.
Seek legal advice
Seek legal advice if there is a problem. If your company does not stop the harassment from happening or retaliates against you, contact an attorney immediately.
Consult With a Knowledgeable Bay Area Employment Lawyer
If you have been subject to sexual harassment at work, contact the McCormack Law Firm for immediate assistance. As experienced San Francisco employment law attorneys, we understand employers' legal duties to create and foster a safe, harassment-free workplace, and we put that knowledge to use in each of our clients' cases. We handle all types of California sexual harassment claims, including hostile work environment claims and quid pro quo claims. We also handle California wrongful terminations and wage theft.
To learn more and schedule a free consultation to speak with an attorney about your situation, call (415) 925-5161.