Be Comfortable at Your Place of Work
In spite of the fact that nearly all large companies provide sexual harassment training to their employees to reduce the incidents of harassment, it still happens with alarming frequency. Claims for sex/gender discrimination and hostile working environment with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing still remain high on the list of complaints received. It is hard to imagine what goes on in the mind of a harasser before they make a conscious decision to harass someone in the workplace, but it goes without saying they have every reason to know better. No one should have to tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination especially in their place of employment, where their job and benefits may well be at risk.
California Sexual Harassment Law
In California, it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer, labor organization, employment agency, apprenticeship training program, or any training program leading to employment, to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment from occurring. The prohibition against sexual harassment includes protection from a broad range of conduct, ranging from expressly or impliedly conditioning employment benefits on submission to or tolerance of unwelcome sexual advances, to the creation of a work environment that is hostile or abusive on the basis of sex. The prohibition against discrimination/harassment in employment because of sex is intended to guarantee that members of both sexes will enjoy equal employment benefits.
A cause of action for quid pro quo harassment involves the behavior most commonly regarded as sexual harassment, including, e.g., sexual propositions, unwarranted graphic discussion of sexual acts, and commentary on the employee’s body and the sexual uses to which it could be put. To state a cause of action on this theory, it is sufficient to allege that a term of employment was expressly or impliedly conditioned upon acceptance of a supervisor’s unwelcome sexual advances. The typical scenario tends to involve someone in a supervisory/managerial role who initiates (or tries to) a sexual relationship with a subordinate. While the threat of termination or demotion is not often expressly made, harassers usually make it clear to their victims that continued employment or advancement hinge on consent to a sexual relationship. Harassers (knowing their true intent and trying to conceal the coercive nature of the "relationship") will often shower the victim with gifts, cards, letters, etc., to make the relationship seem more "normal" or consensual. Harassers often look for some way to get their victims to at least appear consenting.
In addition to quid pro quo harassment, California law (and federal law for that matter) prohibit the creation or maintenance of a hostile work environment. An employer and/or workers may be liable for creating a “hostile work” environment, subjecting their victims to an uncomfortable and perhaps unsafe workplace. For such sexual harassment to be actionable, the offensive actions must be sufficiently severe or pervasive ”to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.” The range of prohibited activity is quite broad and can include constant flirtations, exposure to sexually offensive media (photographs, websites, etc.), sexual banter and the list goes on and on. Like the quid pro quo harassers, those creating a hostile work environment will often make every effort to make the offensive conduct seem as though it was nothing more than consensual horseplay. Victims are quite frequently left with no choice but to "play along" or run the risk of being fired or demoted, particularly where they are already in a precarious position (such as a new hire, etc.).
Examples of Harassment
In the past, cases handled by Mr. Ralph have included some pretty shocking examples of harassment. In one case the owner of a small company harassed one of his female employees by suggesting that they stop and "rest" at a motel on their way back to the office from lunch. In addition to this, he showered his employee with gifts, put up provocative pictures of bikini-clad women in the office, hung a female nude painting near the victim's desk and repeatedly told sexist and even racist jokes in the presence of the victim. The client filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and was thereafter issued her "right-to-sue" letter, which normally precedes the civil litigation process.
In yet another case, a young female employee was harassed by a vice president of her employer. Repeatedly, the VP offered dinner and lunch dates to his subordinate, complimented her shape, and invited her to his home. When the hundreds of attempts at establishing a relationship failed, the client was fired from her job for "performance" issues. The termination for "cause" or performance related reasons is a favorite among harassers.
When You Have Been a Victim
If you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, contacting a seasoned injury attorney may be the best first step toward recovering compensation for any injuries and damages suffered. Located in the heart of Orange County, Mr. Ralph is available for a free consultation regarding your potential case.