What is Hostile Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Hostile work environment sexual harassment exists occurs where an employee is subject to offensive comments, discrimination, bullying or sexually verbal behavior in the workplace.  Anytime an employee in the workplace feels intimidated, scared or uncomfortable due to the actions or words of a coworker, a hostile work environment can be alleged.  A hostile work environment can include conduct sexual in nature which is severe enough to create an offensive working environment and fulfill a claim for hostile workplace sexual harassment.  In order for a legal claim to exist on the basis of a hostile work environment, the offending conduct need be severe or pervasive in the workplace.  One offensive comment will not suffice; the environment need be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. 

The Law On Hostile Workplace Sexual Harassment 

Hostile work environment sexual harassment, quid pro sexual harassment and direct, unwanted sexual contact in the workplace make up the types of sexual harassment in the workplace.  All kinds of harassment in the workplace are a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).  Both federal and New York State laws prohibit this behavior in the workplace.  The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency which enforces civil rights laws as they apply to workplace discrimination.  The EEOC investigates complaints of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, or genetic information, and also investigates reports of employer retaliation.  The EEOC also mediates and settles discrimination complaints.

The EEOC describes workplace harassment and notes that the employer is liable for the harassment in certain situations:

• Harassment caused by a superior in the workplace;
• Harassment by a supervisor which results in a negative employment action such as termination or failure to promote or hire or loss of wages;
• Harassment caused by a non-supervisor if the employer was aware of the harassment (or should have known) and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

An employer can avoid liability for hostile workplace sexual (or other) harassment if it can prove that it reasonably tried to prevent the offensive behavior or promptly tried to correct it; and if the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer – as often stated in the company’s employee handbook.

Specific conduct which can fulfill a claim for hostile workplace sexual harassment can include:

• Inappropriate sexual comments, text messages or emails;
• Unwelcome sexual advances or physical/intimidating touching;
• Sexually explicit or otherwise offensive cartoons or drawings;
• Requests for sexual favors; and
• Inappropriate comments about a person’s gender.

What You Should Do If You Are a Victim of Hostile Workplace Sexual Harassment 

According to the EEOC, employees who are harassed in a hostile workplace environment should “inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop.  Employees should also report harassment to management at an early stage to prevent its escalation.”   However, all harassment should be carefully documented and all offending materials, including emails, texts, voicemails, pictures and telephone calls should be preserved, along with a log of all offending incidents.  If the issue is not resolved, an employee can file a formal complaint with the EEOC.  But most importantly, the harassed employee should hire the best sexual harassment attorney they can find, to ensure that all of their rights are safeguarded and all claims preserved and enforced.

Contact a New York Sexual Harassment Attorney Today

Your choice of lawyer is crucial in enforcing your sexual harassment claims.  The New York sexual harassment attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have won many high profile cases through tenacious litigation – and for this reason we have been able to garner millions of dollars in settlements for sexual harassment claims just over the past year.  We take every case seriously and we turn over every rock in an effort to win your case.  Yes, we’ve won some giant cases and yes, we’re highly rated on Martindale-Hubbell, Avvo and Superlawyers.  But our clients will also tell you that we go to the ends of the earth to figure out a way to win their cases.  Call us at (212) 581-1001 today to discuss your case and enforce your rights.