Sexual Harassment Litigation Helps Protect Workers on the JobDecember 7, 2011
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At Hornberger & Brewer, our business litigation experience is useful not just in legal disputes over employment contracts, but in court cases involving the more recognizable employment law issues of racial discrimination, wrongful termination … and sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment involves intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.
- Barnes v. Train (1974) is commonly viewed as the first sexual harassment case in America, even though the term “sexual harassment” was not used.
- In 1976, Williams v. Saxbe established sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination when sexual advances by a male supervisor towards a female employee, if proven, would be deemed an artificial barrier to employment placed before one gender and not another.
- Even though the first sexual harassment decision was actually handed down in 1976, it wasn’t until the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas that the concept entered national consciousness. Since allegations by Anita Hill were never part of a lawsuit, Hill’s claims were not proved or disproved.
- In 1991, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. became the first sexual harassment case to be given class action status, paving the way for others.
- Also in 1991, President Bill Clinton came under fire for alleged sexual harassment of Paula Jones, a state employee when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Clinton denied all allegations.
- During 2007 alone, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and related state agencies received 12,510 new charges of sexual harassment on the job.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of 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 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.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
- It is helpful for the victim to directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.
When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, the EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.
But if a sexual harassment case proceeds to litigation, an in-depth understanding how to handle lawsuits involving these issues is necessary. But this is never easy. There are many related matters involved, such as free speech rights. The law on the subject is expansive. At Hornberger & Brewer, our employment attorneys have a thorough understanding of California state and federal employment law. We bring our trial lawyer experience and civil litigation expertise to the vigorous representation of clients involved in employment law disputes.
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