Los Angeles Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Sexual harassment is a form of workplace discrimination. Most people hear the term “sexual harassment” and associate it with things like unwelcome touching, groping, sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and similar actions. However, sexual harassment does not have to be sexual in nature; it is also any form of harassment due to the victim’s sex.
When faced with any type of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to know your rights. There are several protections in place at both the federal and state level meant to ensure the safety of American workers. If you feel as though you have been sexually harassed, familiarize yourself with the applicable laws and connect with an sexual harassment attorney experienced in employment law.
Know Your Rights for Sexual Harassment in Los Angeles
Employees need to understand their rights when it comes to sexual harassment. Discrimination of any kind due to a person’s sex is illegal. Many companies enact their own internal policies to prevent the practice or at least contain incidents before they explode into expensive lawsuits. If you encounter any type of sexual harassment at work, you should immediately consult your company’s code of conduct and speak with the HR department.
In some situations, you might be able to end the harassment simply by talking to the offender. This may sound daunting, but if you do this as soon as his or her behavior becomes unwelcome rather than waiting for the harassment to turn into a persistent issue, you might be able to resolve it permanently and without further stress. If you have an open conversation with the offender at the outset, you may be able to solve it.
However, if the harassing actions do not stop or you feel that the individual is not miscommunicating but rather intentionally causing you distress and may become hostile, you should consult an attorney. In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the oversight body responsible for ensuring safe and nondiscriminatory workplaces. Employers are expressly prohibited from sexually harassing employees in the workplace, and management need not be aware of the situation in order to be held liable for it.
DFEH law defines sexual harassment in the workplace as one of two varieties:
- Quid pro quo. “Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that translates to “this for that,” or “something for something.” This type of sexual harassment can only happen when the harasser has some measure of control over the victim’s employment, and it usually defines a transaction of some kind that involves sexual favors. Typically, an employer will ask the employee for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or other work-related benefit.
In other cases, an employer may threaten the employee with negative actions against the employee’s work, such as wrongful termination, denied promotion, a low evaluation score, cut hours, or similar actions.
- Hostile work environment. In some harassment cases, the harasser may not have any control over the victim’s employment status or make any direct threats – rather, he or she engages in conduct that makes the workplace unpleasant, intimidating, distressful, or otherwise hostile. This type of harassment can easily affect several people. An employee is not required to be the direct target of any sexual harassment to file a claim.
Some harassers may feign ignorance if confronted about their unwelcome behavior. Some may attempt to brush it off as joking or harmless. This is not a viable excuse, as California state law requires employers to conduct regular sexual harassment training for employees. The DFEH requires two hours of training every two years, and new hires must receive this training within the first six months of hire.
Behaviors That Constitute Sexual Harassment in California
Sexual harassment can take many forms and is not always necessarily targeted at one person. Under California state law, anyone may file a claim for a hostile work environment if he or she witnesses offensive behaviors, regardless of whether or not the conduct was directed at someone specifically. Sexual harassment can include:
- Physical contact. Any type of unwanted touching, groping, or other physical contact counts as sexual harassment. If the action is violent or severe, it can also constitute sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault. This can include actions of a sexual nature or physical harassment based on the victim’s sex.
- Verbal abuse. Light teasing typically will not count as sexual harassment in court, and such behavior can sometimes be stopped simply by asking the offender to choose different words or avoid certain topics. If someone make rude comments or offensive jokes about a person’s sex, it is important to make it clear that his or her speech is unwelcome and offensive. In some cases, verbal harassment is not targeted and may affect several people in the workplace. In cases where the harassment is targeted at one particular person, other people in the workplace may also consider the speech harassment.
- Sexual imagery. Harassment can also take the form of posting sexually suggestive photographs or images or writing sexual references or other similar notes in plain view of others. An example might be an employee who pins pictures of women in bikinis or lingerie in his or her workspace where others can easily see them. Although this behavior may not be aimed at making one or several particular people uncomfortable, it is important that you ask the offender to remove the images and keep them out of view of others if you witness such conduct and find it offensive.
- Bullying. Men in female-dominated fields and women in male-dominated fields unfortunately sometimes encounter bullying of various types in the workplace due to their sex. The harasser may play pranks or interfere with the target employee’s work due to his or her sex. If you find yourself targeted by such behavior at work, make it clear that it is unwelcome and ask the offender to stop. If you do not think it would be safe to do so, or if the harasser is likely to become violent or hostile, you should explore your company’s internal harassment policies and contact a sexual harassment lawyer.
- Quid pro quo, or sexual extortion. This can only occur between an employee and someone who has control over his or her employment in some way, such as a supervisor, manager, or department director. The harasser typically demands sexual favors and threatens negative employment-related actions if the victim does not agree to them, or offers positive employment-related actions (such as a pay raise or promotion) in exchange for sexual favors.
Coworkers of equivalent standing in an organization cannot engage in quid pro quo, but they can create a hostile work environment if they repeatedly request or demand sexual favors.
- Discrimination against pregnant or nursing mothers. It is illegal to discriminate against pregnant women, and employers have some special obligations to pregnant employees. Making rude and unwelcome remarks about a woman’s pregnancy or a nursing mother’s need to pump breast milk at work is sexual harassment. Although the harassment is not sexually suggestive in nature, the victim is targeted due to her sex.
Examples of Sexual Harassment Cases
A few general examples of situations that would constitute sexual harassment include:
- A supervisor promises an employee a promotion if he or she performs a sexual favor for the supervisor.
- A coworker regularly makes offensive jokes about women, which upset and offend several women in the workplace.
- An employee hangs a calendar in his or her cubicle featuring nude or suggestive photography in plain view of other employees.
- A pregnant employee is refused a promotion because she will soon need to take maternity leave.
- One employee is promoted over another more qualified employee because of sex.
- An employee regularly makes offensive comments about men or women in general.
Remember that victims and harassers can be either men or women, and a victim and harasser can be the same sex. The important factor is whether or not the conduct is unwelcome.
Sexual Harassment vs. Sex Discrimination
Sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are often conflated. While they are indeed related, sexual harassment is a type of sexual discrimination and carries a different connotation. Sexual discrimination generally applies to using a person’s race, skin color, sex, age, disability, or other protected identity trait as a determining factor in employment-related decisions. Examples of sexual discrimination include:
- Refusing to hire a qualified applicant for no reason other than his or her sex. This may also apply to refusing to accept applications from individuals of one sex or the other.
- Denying a qualified employee a promotion for no reason other than his or her sex. Many of these cases involve showing that another less-qualified employee of the other sex received the promotion instead.
- Giving an employee an undeserved, unfavorable work review due to his or her sex.
- Basing decisions about work processes on sex. For example, delegating only certain tasks to male or female employees when employees of the other sex are qualified and physically able to do the same work.
- Expecting different behaviors or having different employee conduct standards for men and women.
Sexual discrimination typically involves negative actions against a victim’s employment status due to his or her sex, and it is often used to describe isolated incidents or specific actions. Conversely, sexual harassment involves negative or unwelcome actions taken against a particular person due to his or her sex and usually connotes several incidents or persistent behaviors over time.
Compensation in a Los Angeles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
One of the most important parts of sexual harassment lawsuits to remember is that the behavior must be unwelcome and have an ill effect on the victim. Many sexual harassment cases involve the victim’s employment status. When sexual harassment leads to an employee’s termination, denial for a raise or promotion, or other actions that affect the employee’s compensation, the victim can file a claim to recover the damages.
Many judges will award other forms of compensation in cases of extreme or particularly heinous sexual harassment. If the harassment becomes criminally violent, a judge may award punitive damages too. The offender will then face criminal charges for his or her actions in addition to your civil claim. Your sexual harassment case may include compensation for:
- Back pay. If you were fired or denied due compensation, you can sue for the money you should have earned had the harassment not taken place. This can include lost wages, estimated missed tips or commissions, bonuses, accumulated vacation time, benefits, stock options, or other forms of financial compensation you should have reasonably expected to receive.
- Front pay. In sexual harassment cases that include the victim losing his or her job, or where a person was forced to quit due to the harassment, the victim will often push for reinstatement to his or her former position. However, due to the nature of some companies and businesses, reinstatement is not always reasonable possible or practical.
In other cases, the relationship between the victim and harassing employer may have been too hostile to warrant a return. In these cases, a judge will typically award front pay, or compensation for the time you’ll spend between jobs after losing or vacating a position due to sexual harassment.
- Pain and suffering. Sexual harassment of any kind can be psychologically distressing and cause persistent feelings of dread, disgust, humiliation, or other strong emotions. “Pain and suffering” is the legal term for the compensation a victim receives for the harm caused by the harassment. In some cases, this will depend on testimony from expert witnesses who will explain your situation in a way that the court can understand. This way, a judge can more accurately assign an appropriate value to your experiences.
- Punitive damages. As the name implies, punitive damages are meant to punish the harasser and discourage any future incidents of a similar nature. Punitive damages may affect other areas of the organization aside from the harasser. For example, if a director knew about a subordinate manager’s sexual harassment and did nothing to deter or prevent the conduct, the director can be held liable for the harassment and forced to pay punitive damages.
Federal law has maximum limits for how much a victim may receive in punitive damages, and these amounts typically reflect the number of employees in the organization. State law can also affect the amount of punitive damages a victim can receive. In California, there is no set cap for punitive damages. The ruling will require clear and convincing evidence, and the defendant’s financial situation is taken into account.
Ultimately, if you’re pursuing a sexual harassment claim, one of the best assets you can have is an attorney. Find a Los Angeles attorney with a proven track record of successful outcomes for clients in similar cases, and vet potential lawyers carefully before agreeing to representation. Sexual harassment lawsuits can quickly grow into complex ordeals, and you’ll need an attorney who has the necessary experience and skill.
How Do I File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
The claims process for sexual harassment cases is complicated. A Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer can help you navigate the process and file all the required paperwork before the deadlines. Sexual harassment cases fall under the jurisdiction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and you must file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the harassment. You do not need to submit an official form – just a written statement that includes the facts about your situation.
In most cases, the EEOC will send you a “right to sue” letter authorizing you to pursue a lawsuit against the offender. In other cases, the EEOC may choose to file a lawsuit on your behalf. Before a determination is made, the EEOC will launch an investigation into your claim. The investigation will involve evidence gathering and questioning any parties involved. If the EEOC investigation determines no harassment took place, the organization will still issue a right to sue letter to the complainant in most cases.
Regardless of the EEOC’s determination about your claim, you have the right to pursue a lawsuit against your harasser. When you meet with a legal team, they will ask questions to determine whether your case merits a lawsuit – and if so, what the likelihood is of a successful lawsuit. They will then discuss the terms of legal representation.
If you’ve dealt with sexual harassment in your Los Angeles workplace, you need a Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyer with the necessary experience and tenacity to pursue just compensation for your claim. Mathew & George Attorneys at Law have a track record for success in all manner of employment-related lawsuits. We believe in tenacious, comprehensive legal representation for every one of our clients. We maintain a small caseload to ensure every client receives our full attention and range of resources.
Whether you have more questions about the sexual harassment laws in California or you think you may have a lawsuit on your hands, contact the team of Los Angeles sexual harassment attorneys at Mathew & George for a consultation. Individuals who intimidate or harass others at work need to be held accountable for their actions. Sexual harassment is almost always emotionally distressing for victims, and if it happens to you, you need an attorney who will handle your case with compassion and the utmost attention to detail so you can work toward getting your life back to normal.