Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. Because Title VII labels sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination, employers are breaking the law if they subject their employees to sexual harassment. North Carolina state law also protects certain employees from workplace sexual harassment.
At Gibbons Law Group, PLLC, we help employees hold employers liable for their failure to protect employees or for their facilitation and participation in workplace sexual harassment. We will file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on your behalf and file a lawsuit for you in federal court.
What Behaviors Constitute Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?
Sexual harassment can happen to anyone at the workplace regardless of gender. Many verbal and physical behaviors, including the following, may be sexual harassment:
- Unwanted, improper, or offensive sexual statements or actions (e.g., comments about victim’s appearance, sexual jokes, distributing sexually explicit pictures, etc.)
- Unwanted, improper, or offensive physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexual advances (e.g., touching, kissing, hugging, sexual activity)
- Pressure for sexual favors
- Unwanted personal attention (e.g., excessive letters, emails, visits, phone calls pressuring the victim to go on dates, etc.)
Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace falls into one of two categories. Both are illegal, and both can leave the employer open to liability.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an authority figure makes an employment decision depending on whether the employee agrees to conduct of a sexual nature. For example, quid pro quo occurs when a manager insists that an employee perform sexual acts with him in order to get a promotion or keep a job. One incident like this is often enough for a quid pro quo claim.
Hostile Work Environment
A hostile work environment sexual harassment claim requires multiple instances of unwelcome conduct. This pattern of conduct must be severe enough to produce a threatening and intimidating work environment. In order to determine whether an employer has created a hostile work environment, courts may look at a number of factors, including:
- How often the conduct occurred
- Type of conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, both)
- How offensive the conduct was
- How many people were subject to harassment
- Whether a supervisor or co-worker was the harasser
Sexual Harassment Liability
A victim of sexual harassment in the workplace can file suit against his or her employer. In order to have a successful sexual harassment case, the victim must prove that:
- He or she believed the conduct was hostile or offensive. This is subjective—one person may find something offensive that another person considers commonplace (e.g., hugging)
- A reasonable person would impartially find the conduct hostile or offensive
When Is My Employer Liable?
Because an employer can be liable for the actions of their supervisors and employees, victims may hold employers liable for sexual harassment in almost every case; however, what laws apply to your employer (and how you will be able to hold him or her accountable) depends on how many people work at your company.
Title VII terms apply to companies with more than 15 employees, whereas North Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws apply to companies with fewer than 15 employees. Part of your case planning will involve identifying the appropriate laws under which to bring the lawsuit and then presenting the evidence that demonstrates liability—something employers fight diligently against.
What Do I Need to Prove?
In order to prove that an employer is responsible, we help victims of workplace sexual harassment prove different elements depending on whether the harasser was an authority figure or a co-worker. If the harasser was a person of authority or supervisor, we help you prove:
- The employer took negative action relating to the employee’s career (e.g., firing, demoting);
- The employer failed to act reasonably to prevent the harassment
- The employer failed to take appropriate action to stop the harassment once aware of it
- The employer retaliated against the employee for reporting the harassment
If the harasser was a co-worker or a third-party who does not work at the company, we help you prove:
- The harassment reasonably interfered with work performance
- The employer knew or should have known about the harassment
- The employer failed to take immediate action to remedy the situation
Generally speaking, if we can prove that the employer failed to act appropriately to protect the employee from sexual harassment, the employee will be able to hold the employer liable.
Recourse and Resolutions for Workplace Sexual Harassment Cases
An employee who can prove sexual harassment may be eligible to recover compensation. Some damages you may be eligible to receive will depend on the harm you suffered as a result of the harassment. Other damages will depend on the expenses you incurred. Providing evidence of how the sexual harassment affected you is, therefore, another key element of these cases—something we help employees do with thorough case review, document compilation, and legal argument.
The main recoverable damages include:
Compensatory damages will cover harm that you suffered other than your lost wages. Compensatory damages may cover:
- Pain and suffering
- Harm to your reputation
- Out-of-pocket expenses (e.g., job search costs, medical bills, etc.)
You might be able to recover punitive damages if the harassment was egregious or malicious.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can have a dramatic effect on you for years to come.
Call Gibbons Law Group for Help
You should not be subjected to unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate conduct in the workplace. If your employer does not take steps to prevent this harassment and protect your rights, you may be able to hold the employer liable. If you have faced sexual harassment at work, contact Gibbons Law Group, PLLC, for a free consultation today.