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Sexual Harassment

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits workplace harassment based on a number of protected characteristics. Sexual harassment is a specific kind of harassment.

Sexual harassment is violent. Verbal abuse is emotional battery. All of it is wrong. Righting those wrongs is one of our favorite pastimes. It takes bravery to stand up for yourself. It takes courage to fight for justice. We know. We have been there time and time again, unfortunately. Trust us to support you.

There are two types of sexual harassment claims.

Quid Pro Quo literally means “this for that” in Latin. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee’s supervisor conditions favorable terms of employment on an employee’s acceptance of unwanted sexual advances or similar misconduct. It is an illegal abuse of power where a supervisor takes advantage of their authority to coerce an employee to accept unacceptable behavior.

Hostile Work Environment occurs when an employee is exposed to harassing conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it alters the terms and conditions of employment.

Example 1: Jessica is Solomon’s supervisor. She conducts an annual performance review that determines whether he receives a raise. During his review, she asks him to travel to a wedding with her as her date. Solomon is not interested in this. The timing and location of Jessica’s request seems to condition a favorable performance review on Solomon’s agreement with her request. This is an example of Quid Pro Quo because a supervisor is abusing her authority over a subordinate to demand favors the subordinate would not otherwise consent to.

Example 2: Larissa and Scott are coworkers. Neither are supervisors. Their cubicles are right next to each other. Scott is frequently on his cell phone, boasting about various sexual encounters to his friends, using graphic and degrading language. Scott believes this is okay because he is on his break and is not talking about any of his coworkers. Larissa does not want to hear these things at work. When she accepted this job, she reasonably assumed that she would not be exposed to this type of language. The terms and conditions on which she accepted employment did not include her acceptance of this conduct. Scott’s harassing conduct is so pervasive that it has altered the terms and conditions of Larissa’s employment, creating a hostile work environment.

Example 3: As a “prank,” Tom pulls down Jerry’s pants and underwear in front of all of their coworkers. Jerry is humiliated and rushes to cover himself. When he accepted this job, Jerry reasonably assumed this type of thing would not happen at work. Although this is the only time Tom has done something like this, his harassing conduct was so severe that it altered the terms and conditions of Jerry’s employment, creating a hostile work environment.

Who is Liable if I Experience Sexual Harassment?

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) allows you to pursue claims against an individual harasser, such as Jessica, Scott, and Tom in the examples above.

In many cases, FEHA also allows you to pursue claims against your employer, which is usually in a better position to compensate you for the harm you have suffered. Your employer is automatically liable for harassment by its supervisors. If the harasser is someone other than your supervisor, your employer is only liable if they know of the harassment and fail to take prompt corrective action to end the harassment.

Example: Mira and Liang are customer service clerks at a large electronics store. Mira works the morning shift and Liang takes over on the evening shift. They work at the same station and use the same computer. Liang observes that Mira has repeatedly viewed and bookmarked pornography on their shared computer. Her employer’s liability depends on whether they knew about Mira’s conduct. Liang’s most effective way to show her employer’s knowledge is to report the harassing conduct. However, if it can be shown that the employer knew of Mira’s conduct through some other means, they can be held liable if they fail to correct the problem, regardless of whether Liang complained.

If you have experienced sexual harassment or other inappropriate conduct at work, call the employment attorneys at Spencer Young Law today for a free consultation.

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