Introduction

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Victims of sexual harassment typically feel humiliated as a result of the oppressive experience of being harassed in the workplace. A normal response is for victims to feel depressed, angry and powerless. Under the emotional strain of sexual harassment, it is difficult to assess the situation and to respond appropriately and assertively. This book is designed to help victims assess their situations and to advise them about how they should respond to the demeaning experience of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, but when it happens in or connected to the workplace it is unlawful under federal and California statutes. This book describes the sometimes uncertain line between discourteous behavior in the workplace and unlawful sexually oriented behavior at work. Some sexual conduct in the workplace is tolerated, but some sexual behavior, particularly if it is unwanted and severe or pervasive, is unlawful.

The first thing you want to know when you are thinking about trying to find a sexual harassment attorney is whether you have a case. Harassment can mean different things in different contexts. One might consider unprofessional or rude behavior to be harassment, but rude behavior is not necessarily unlawful sexual harassment. Some harassment might be grounds for dismissal, suspension or other adverse employment action. Yet, that same behavior may not be sufficient grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit. This book investigates the varieties of sexual harassment in the workplace that will survive the judicial scrutiny of a lawsuit.

Certainly, unprofessional and discourteous acts might also be sufficient grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit. However, there are situations where an individual’s offensive and inappropriate behavior is insufficient to support a lawsuit. The grounds for termination of employment or other adverse employment action depend upon individual employers, so there is a great deal of variety between employers as to how they respond to discourteous behavior and sexual harassment in the workplace. While an employer might reprimand, suspend or fire an individual for inappropriate behavior, that same behavior might not constitute a sufficient claim for sexual harassment in a court of law.

This book features “Cases In Point” that describe the facts of real cases in which the courts determined whether the alleged behavior did or did not qualify as sexual harassment. The table of contents summarizes the topic of each Case In Point, so that victims of sexual harassment can look for cases that parallel their experience in the workplace. Cases In Point present a realistic view of what qualifies as sexual harassment and they can give victims preliminary information to consider about the viability of their claims, even before they consult a sexual harassment attorney.

Regardless of whether a victim of sexual harassment intends to file a lawsuit, a victim’s first desire is to make the harassment stop. Harassment is controlling and manipulative behavior that has an emotional impact on the victim, and the victim is likely to feel depressed and uncomfortable about having to go back into the workplace and face the harassment. In extreme cases, a victim may even need to quit his or her job in order to escape the harassment. Therefore, even before going to a lawyer, a sexual harassment victim needs to know what he or she can do in the face of harassing behavior.

We set forth the steps that a victim can consider taking, such as documenting the incidents of harassment, finding personal and professional support to address the trauma of sexual harassment, and navigating the administrative process necessary to bring a legal claim. It is important for victims of sexual harassment to realize that they are not alone. The psychological impact of sexual harassment is often serious and seeking comfort from friends and family, and even the help of a trained mental health care professional, can be beneficial to a victim’s mental and physical well-being. A mental health care professional can also prove helpful in a resulting lawsuit.

Pregnancy and pregnancy leave discrimination are forms of gender discrimination. Gender discrimination can overlap with sexual harassment, but gender discrimination has different legal elements. A chapter in this book describes gender discrimination and focuses on statues that provide for pregnancy and family leave under federal and California laws. There are several different statutes which provide for leave. Having a baby should be a joyous time, yet due to the rising problem of “maternal profiling,” it has increasingly become a very stressful time. Pregnancy should not put a woman’s employment in jeopardy or bar her from an employment opportunity. If a woman is discriminated against because of her pregnancy, she can find the laws that are designed to protect her in this book.

Sexual harassment victims may wonder who they can hold responsible for the harassment they have suffered. Depending on the facts of a victim’s case and whether the lawsuit is brought in federal or California court, the rules vary on who can be held liable for the damages that the victim suffers from sexual harassment. This book details the liability of employers, supervisors, coworkers and non-employees for sexual harassment and related claims.

In this book you will find that there are additional claims that are often made separately from, or in conjunction with, a sexual harassment claim. Retaliation is a legal claim that allows victims to seek damages for being punished at work by their employer for making sexual harassment or gender discrimination complaints, or for refusing to carry out discriminatory personnel orders. This situation often arises if a sexual harassment victim is fired after complaining to management about the underlying harassment. Other additional claims include torts such as infliction of emotional distress, defamation, assault, and battery.
Please note that sexual harassment laws vary state by state and the information contained in this book applies specifically to the federal and California laws that affect acts of sexual harassment in the state of California. A victim must follow the practical steps with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and/or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in order to ensure that their legitimate claim is not dismissed as a result of not following administrative procedures in the allotted time.

This book focuses on civil lawsuits for damages for sexual harassment as opposed to criminal action that would be brought by a district attorney. A severe act of sexual harassment such as rape is an example of a crime for which charges would be brought by a district attorney in a criminal case. When rape occurs in the workplace, it can also be grounds for a civil action for damages to compensate the victim.

There is a difference between consensual and unwelcome behavior. In the context of a criminal case, consent to an act is a defense for the defendant, but consent is not a defense in a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment. A major criterion in a civil lawsuit is whether the act was wanted or unwanted. This concept recognizes the pressures that a victim can be under when a supervisor or boss uses the power and control of advances or demotion in the workplace in exchange for sexual favors.

Sexual harassment is not only a legal problem, but also a social and emotional problem; it is therefore important to address all aspects of the problems that victims of sexual harassment face. People in power in the workplace who sexually harass subordinates are typically exhibiting controlling and abusive behavior to exploit subordinates sexually with the manipulative leverage of advancement in the workplace and/or with the threat of adverse employment consequences. It is important that a victim find legal counsel who understands that an integral part of aiding a victim of sexual harassment is not just taking legal steps, but is also providing support to help the victim heal from the emotional scars left in the wake of sexual harassment in the workplace.

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