How to File a Sexual Harassment Complaint in California
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is still an alarming problem in workplaces across the country. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that from 2018 to 2021, it received 27,291 charges alleging sexual harassment. Employers need to be held accountable for this illegal behavior, and harmed employees should receive relief for any damage done. Fortunately, you can receive the justice you deserve by filing a sexual harassment complaint or lawsuit. 

Do you know how to file a sexual harassment complaint in California? We will review the steps in this article. And if you want the best chance of success for your complaint, speak to our skilled attorneys at King & Siegel, LLP. We get results for mistreated employees and are here to help you. Contact us today.

What Is Sexual Harassment? 

Sometimes the media gives us a narrow and distorted view of sexual harassment. Does your boss commit sexual harassment if they ask you on a romantic date and fire you for declining? Yes, but that is not the only kind of sexual harassment. 

Federal and California sexual harassment laws define this illegal behavior as:

  • Unwanted sexual advances;
  • Unwelcome physical, verbal, or visual conduct of a sexual nature; or
  • Offensive conduct based on someone’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, or pregnancy. 

A harasser can be a supervisor, fellow employee, or non-employee (depending on the circumstances). And unlawful sexual harassment does not have to be rooted in sexual desire. 

If your employer makes endurance of unwanted sexual advances a condition for receiving work or work benefits, or if offensive sex-based behavior has turned your workplace into a hostile environment, you are a victim of sexual harassment. Let’s take a look at what to do if you are a victim of sexual harassment in California. 

Preparing for a Sexual Harassment Complaint

You can recover damages and other legal relief in a government hearing or court if you are a sexual harassment victim. However, you need to prepare for the complaint process. You need to gather evidence and should put your harasser and employer on notice about offensive behavior before complaining. 

Telling Your Harasser to Stop

The first thing you want to do with a workplace sexual harassment issue is to tell your harasser to stop. Evidence of your prompt objection helps you prove that your harasser’s offensive, sex-based behavior was unwelcome. We know that sometimes harassers are in positions of significant power, and it can be hard to confront them. Do the best you can, and if confrontation is too difficult or complex, you can move on to filing an internal complaint. If that seems impossible, you should contact an attorney immediately to discuss alternatives.

Filing an Internal Complaint

Next, you need to file an internal complaint using whatever process your job has for these matters. In some cases, you cannot maintain a sexual harassment complaint against your employer if:

  • Your employer can prove that you did not file a complaint or notify a supervisor; and
  • Your employer can prove that they responded appropriately to any known harassment.

Thus, you want to make sure your employer knows about harassment immediately. This way, your employer cannot excuse themselves from liability by saying they did not know about the harassment or were not afforded the opportunity to address it.   

Gathering Evidence

You need to provide proof of sexual harassment to your employer and any relevant government body. Sometimes, one incident of grievous, harassing behavior is enough to make your harasser and employer liable. Sometimes, you have to prove there was a pattern of offensive behavior that created a hostile environment. 

Whether your complaint regards one instance of harassment or many, it is crucial to gather and keep:

  • Detailed notes about every harassing event;
  • Copies of complaints;
  • Copies of relevant personnel records (to prove unlawful retaliation if your employer punishes you without cause);
  • Correspondence between you and your harasser;
  • Employer correspondence; and
  • Witness information.

Remember that it is also unlawful retaliation for an employer to punish you for filing or helping with a sexual harassment complaint. 

Filing a Complaint with the Government

Once you have made workplace complaints and gathered evidence, it is time to file a formal complaint with the government. You can file this complaint with the EEOC or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Your employer is subject to an EEOC complaint only if they have 15 or more employees. But an employer is liable under a DFEH complaint even if they have only one employee. 

When you file a complaint with one of these government agencies, your complaint is cross-filed with the other. But you need to make sure that your filing meets the deadlines for both government agencies. An experienced employment law attorney can help you observe these deadlines in timely fashion. 

Filing a Lawsuit

You cannot file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer until the EEOC or DFEH gives you a right-to-sue notice. After you receive an EEOC notice, you have 90 days to sue. And if you receive a DFEH notice, you have one year from the date of that notice to sue. 

Let Us Help You

Sexual harassment lawsuits can be emotional and complicated, but they are also important. Our experienced California employment attorneys at King & Siegel take good care of wronged employees by providing aggressive and personalized representation. We receive five-star reviews from our clients and top honors from the legal community. We have also won millions for victims of workplace harassment and discrimination. You deserve the excellent help we can provide. Contact us today.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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