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.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

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.

Unless you act, the behavior is not likely to stop. But navigating the process on your own can be intimidating, and it is important to know what to expect. We will help you hold those who engaged in this reprehensible behavior accountable for their actions and help put an end to sexual harassment.

Most instances of sexual harassment go unreported

Workplace sexual harassment is often 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

If you are a victim of sexual assault, contact 911 immediately and report it to the police or call a sexual assault and abuse hotline.

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:

1 How severe was the harassment?
2 How often did the harassment happen?
3 Was the conduct unwelcome?
4 Did the employee ask the harasser to stop?
5 Did the employee refuse to participate in the behavior?
6 Did the employer know about the harassment?
7 Should the employer have known?
8 Did the employer take steps to stop the harassment from happening again?

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 Means This for That

"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.

What Is My Employer Required to Do After I Report Harassment?

Your employer should conduct a fair investigation, and it has a duty to ensure that the harassment stops. If the harassment does not stop, then you may have a strong case for sexual harassment.

There is no clear rule as to what steps the employer must take to make sure the harassment stops. Employers may respond by issuing a warning to the harasser and may require that the harasser undergo some sexual harassment training. They may reassign them so that they no longer work with you. With severe or repeat offenders, termination is probably the best practice. Employers are not necessarily required by law to terminate or suspend an employee for sexual harassment, but they do have an obligation to stop the harassment and to ensure your safety.

What if an Employer Retaliates Against an Employee for Reporting Sexual Harassment?

Reporting sexual harassment is considered a "protected act" under California law. This means that an employer may not take an "adverse action" (such as a termination, demotion, taking away job duties, etc.) against you in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.

If your employer terminates your employment without good cause, shortly after you report sexual harassment, then you could have a strong case for sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, sex discrimination, and failure to prevent discrimination. Even where the employer claims to have a legitimate reason for the termination, e.g., a layoff, or performance issue, this is sometimes merely a pretext for retaliation, so it is best to consult with an attorney.

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.

Client testimonials

I can honestly say that my experience with Bryan was all the way positive from day one… We had very high expectations about our case and in the end we got what we hoped for. – Roger J.