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Was That Sexual Harassment?

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Clients often come to us to relay their stories of what they experienced at work. They want to know whether they have been the victim of sexual harassment and have a potential claim against their employer. When that happens, we review the facts of the situation to work through the various legal options with our clients. Federal and California laws make sexual harassment illegal, and you may be able to obtain financial compensation when you can prove that the employer broke the law. First, you need to know that the employer’s conduct was illegal.

Sexual harassment can apply to many factual circumstances. Defined loosely, sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. Either gender can be the victim of sexual harassment, whether it comes from the same or the opposite sex. Within the overall definition, there are two main categories of sexual harassment:

  • Quid pro quo
  • Hostile work environment

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a supervisor makes certain employee benefits and actions contingent on sexual favors. In Latin, “quid pro quo” means this for that. The manager can make an explicit demand or hint that there is a connection between sexual favors and employee benefits. The manager can either demand something or threaten to withhold something if the employee does not do as they ask.

For purposes of quid pro quo, employee benefits have a broad meaning. Of course, it includes potential promotions. The manager can make advancement or anything job-related that the employee wants dependent on the performance of a sexual act. Even a raise or a new office could be considered an employee benefit.

Quid pro quo also includes things like a rating on a performance review or even keeping one’s job. If a manager insinuates that an employee can lose their job if they do not perform a sexual favor, it is a form of harassment. No direct threat needs to be made.

The employee may have a case for sexual harassment as soon as the request or insinuation is made. They do not actually have to decline a sexual advance. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is all about a supervisor, or someone else with actual or perceived power over the employee, abusing it to request or demand a sexual favor.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

As its name implies, hostile work environment sexual harassment relates to the employee’s circumstances and surroundings at work. Anyone, and not just someone with power over the employee, can contribute to a hostile work environment. Harassment does not have to be a remark made directly to the employee, but it can be in their presence.

A hostile work environment can be anything that creates a hostile, intimidating, threatening, or offensive work environment that prevents the employee from doing their job. In many cases, the hostile work environment is created by repeated sexual comments and jokes made to an employee. Depending on the gravity, even one extremely offensive remark could constitute sexual harassment. Otherwise, a hostile work environment is a pattern of repeated remarks or insinuations made to the employee or in their presence.

Not everything may be considered a hostile work environment. Subjectively, the employee must demonstrate that they thought the conduct to be hostile, abusive, or offensive. However, there is also a reasonable person standard attached. A reasonable person of similar personality and characteristics would also need to find the behavior objectively offensive. This test would eliminate a cause of action for an employee who seems to be overly sensitive. Nonetheless, the law will hold an employer accountable when behavior does meet this test.

One classic example of a hostile work environment was the so-called “Boom Boom Room” at the Wall Street investment bank Smith Barney in the 1990s. In a certain branch office at the investment bank, brokers would directly call female colleagues offensive names. There was a room in the basement where male workers would get together to swap vulgar stories, and it often happened in the presence of female employees. Smith Barney was ultimately sued for sexual harassment and had to pay the female employees $150 million in damages. This example was an extreme one of pervasive sexual harassment in one office. The facts do not even need to rise to this level to be a hostile work environment.

If you believe that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, you may have a legal claim against the employer that could lead to substantial financial compensation. Your first step should be contacting an experienced attorney who can advise you on how to deal with the situation at work. Usually, your first step would be to bring the concerns to your manager’s attention. If your manager was the one who was the harasser, you should report the conduct to human resources.

In the meantime, you should document everything that you can about the situation. If you are claiming a hostile work environment, it is crucial to have evidence of what you have endured, whether it is in the form of pictures, recordings, or emails. Given that employers may not put things in writing, you may also need testimony from people who witnessed the harassment. If it ends up being your word against someone else’s, you would need more than just your word to win a case. You may even be able to use circumstantial evidence to your benefit.

Contact a Los Angeles Sexual Harassment Attorney Today

The Arshakyan Law Firm can wage a determined and aggressive battle on your behalf when you want justice. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment at work, you can and should fight back, and we are here to help. You should contact an attorney as soon as you believe that you are being subject to sexual harassment. Your initial consultation is free, and you owe us nothing unless we are able to help you win your case. To speak with an attorney, you can send us a message online or call us today at (888) 851-5005.