If your workplace treats you poorly because of sex or gender, you have a legal right to seek damages. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) make workplace sexual harassment illegal. And our experienced Concord sexual harassment attorneys at King & Siegel LLP can help you enforce your rights under Title VII and FEHA and recover what your harasser or employer owes you. Contact us today.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Title VII and FEHA have similar definitions of sexual harassment. In general, sexual harassment is sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sex-based conduct. This type of discrimination is illegal when:
- Your employer requires you to accept unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits (quid pro quo harassment); or
- Unwelcome, sex-based conduct in your workplace is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would identify your workplace as a hostile environment.
You do not have to be the direct target of a sexual harasser’s behavior to have a legal claim. And sexual harassment does not have to be motivated by sexual desire. Whether you are a bystander deeply affected by the offensive actions of someone in your workplace, or a subordinate employee defending yourself against propositions from a supervisor, the law protects you.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?
State and federal laws against sexual harassment protect California workers from a variety of objectionable behaviors in the workplace, including:
- Insulting comments about someone’s sex or gender;
- Requests for sexual favors in exchange for avoiding punishment or receiving benefits;
- Offensive jokes about sex or gender;
- Non-consensual touching;
- Displays of sexually explicit material;
- Offensive, sex-based gestures;
- Unequal treatment based on sex or gender;
- Invasions of others’ personal space;
- Sexually explicit conversations or questioning;
- Comments about others’ bodies or appearance; and
- Statements generalizing people according to sex or gender.
Offensive conduct based on sex or gender includes conduct based on someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy. And your harasser does not have to be of the opposite sex to commit sexual harassment. Also, your employer cannot punish you for filing a sexual harassment complaint or assisting another employee with their complaint.
What to Do About Sexual Harassment
You have many legal rights against sexual harassers and employers that allow harassment to abound in the workplace. To preserve and enforce your legal rights, you need to take a number of steps in your workplace and with government agencies.
First: Tell Your Harasser That Their Behavior Is Unacceptable
To have a valid sexual harassment claim, you must prove that your harasser’s behavior was unwelcome. You can establish this fact by telling your harasser to stop as soon as their harassment begins. Rejecting your harasser’s conduct in front of witnesses or in writing can help your case and might even prevent future harassment.
We know that harassment is intimidating, and confronting a harasser is often difficult. If it is too complicated to confront your harasser, speak to a supervisor about the unwelcome behavior.
Second: Start Gathering Evidence
It is crucial to collect evidence of harassment from the beginning. You need this evidence for workplace complaints and legal complaints.
Among the evidence you should gather are:
- Detailed notes about each instance of harassment,
- Personnel records,
- Witness information,
- Wage records,
- Job descriptions,
- Copies of complaints,
- Disciplinary records,
- Medical records, and
- Related bills and invoices.
Gather as much as is legally available to you. If there is other important evidence that you cannot legally access, our experienced Concord sexual harassment lawyers have the tools to access it on your behalf.
Third: File A Complaint at Work
Sometimes an employer can avoid taking responsibility for sexual harassment if it can prove that you did not use its procedures to file a harassment complaint. You do not want to give your employer an opportunity to sidestep its responsibilities like this. Read your employer’s complaint policies and file a formal sexual harassment complaint at work.
If your employer does not have a complaint policy, submit a written complaint to a supervisor or human resources. You can do this in the form of a sexual harassment complaint letter that outlines the details of the harassment you have endured.
Fourth: File a Sexual Harassment Complaint with the Government or File a Lawsuit
If your employer refuses to correct workplace misconduct and properly compensate you, you can seek legal recourse by filing a sexual harassment complaint with the government or a civil lawsuit. A complaint or lawsuit can win you:
- Job reinstatement,
- Back pay,
- Policy changes,
- Compensation for financial losses,
- Benefit reinstatement,
- Other employment changes, and
- Punitive damages.
You can file your complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). And if you want to file a civil lawsuit, you must first receive a notice from the DFEH or EEOC that states that you have a right to sue.
State and private employees have 180 days to file an EEOC complaint (300 days if state law also covers the complaint). Federal employees have 45 days to file an EEOC complaint. Also, keep in mind that the EEOC has jurisdiction only over employers that have 15 or more employees.
If you want to file a DFEH sexual harassment complaint, you have three years to file. In California, employees are generally best served by filing a DFEH complaint, rather than an EEOC complaint. If you are not sure which is best for you, speak to an experienced Concord sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible to determine how to kick off the complaint process.
Fifth: Contact Law Enforcement If You Are a Survivor of Sexual Abuse or Assault
In some cases, harassment rises to the level of criminal sexual assault or abuse. Criminal sexual activities that overlap with workplace harassment include the following:
- Forcing sexual acts,
- Performing sexual acts without consent,
- Non-consensual touching of a sexual nature, and
- Indecent exposure.
If you have suffered sexual abuse and harassment at work, it is important to contact law enforcement. Survivors of workplace sexual abuse or assault have the right to file criminal complaints and initiate civil legal actions to make their harassers answer for their wrongs in as many ways as possible.
Our Concord Sexual Harassment Attorneys Can Protect You
At King & Siegel, we are top-level sexual harassment attorneys. If you have been mistreated by your workplace, you deserve the same superior legal counsel that big corporations receive, and that is what we provide. We have won millions for employees, and we give each client one-on-one attention to help ensure our strategies are tailored to their specific needs. We can help protect your right to safely make a living. Contact us today for a free consultation.