While the law surrounding sexual harrasment claims is well settled, actually proving sexual harrasment can be a daunting task. When attempting to build a strong legal sexual harrashment case, both a foundational understanding of the laws and documentation of the harrasment are key.
This post will examine the principal areas of law involved in a sexual harrasment claim and discuss the ways that you can begin to build your sexual harrasment case. However, if you are thinking about filing a sexual harrasment case, you should reach out to an attorney who can assist you in doing so. At O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, LLC, our experienced sexual harrasment attorneys can help you build a strong claim so you can get the justice you deserve.
What Is Sexual Harrasment?
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has defined sexual harrasment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” However, sexual harrasment does not only entail harrasment of a sexual nature. Sexual harrasment also includes harrasment because of your gender identity or sex. While some see sexual harrasment as being exclusively a problem that females fall victim to, anyone on the gender spectrum can be a victim of sexual harrasment in the workplace.
Although we understand isolated incidents and teasing are inappropriate behavior, to have a strong legal claim for harassment, the perpetrator's behavior must be sufficiently severe in the eyes of the law. For instance, harassment becomes illegal when the workplace environment becomes hostile for the victim. Just to name a few, some examples of illegal harassment include:
- Physical acts of sexual assault;
- Unwanted physical contact;
- Feeling pressured to engage in sexual behavior;
- Requests for sexual favors;
- Unwanted online harassment such as explicit emails, photos, or texts;
- Repeated verbal remarks of a sexual nature; and
- Unwelcome sexual advances.
There are more types of sexual harrasment that are not listed here. If you believe you are a victim of sexual harrasment, you should reach out to a sexual harrasment attorney to see if you have an actionable claim.
Legal Foundations of a Sexual Harrasment Claim
At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harrasment in the workplace. Specifically, the statute reads that it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to . . . compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
While local laws on sexual harrasment vary from state to state, there are generally five elements of an actionable sexual harrasment claim:
- The employee belongs to a protected group;
- The employee was subject to unwelcomed sexual harrasment;
- The harrasment was based on sex; and
- The harassment affected a “term, condition, or privilege” of employment.
In addition to these four elements, if you are suing your employer for harassment conducted by a co-worker or supervisor, then you must also prove that the employer was aware (or should have been aware) of the harassment and allowed it to continue.
While some of these elements may seem straightforward, there are complex legal nuances to each one that are best explained by an experienced sexual harrasment attorney.
Building Your Sexual Harrasment Case
As mentioned previously, building a strong sexual harrasment case can be challenging. Substantial evidence is needed to prove each of the above elements of a sexual harrasment cause of action. This is why documentation and investigation will be crucial in building your case.
Document Your Claim
When preparing to bring a sexual harassment lawsuit, you should attempt to thoroughly document every incident of the harrasment. In a journal, attempt to describe the “five W’s”—the “who, what, where, when, and why”—in an incident of sexual harrasment. In addition, try to document these things as they happen so that the information is fresh in your mind and as accurate as possible. Even if the case does not go to trial, documentation of each incident of harassment will bolster your claim.
Investigate Company Policy
Knowing your company’s policies around sexual harrasment will be beneficial in building sexual harrasment evidence. When looking into your company’s policies, look to see if the company has implemented any protections for employees who have been victims of discrimination or harrasment in the workplace. Further, look to see if there have been any past incidents with the perpetrator, and see if the company actively participated in shielding them from liability. Evidence of past incidents will help you bring a stronger claim.
Talk to Potential Witnesses
When building your sexual harrasment claim, it will be helpful to your case to have witnesses that can testify to the harassment. Ask the people who may have witnessed any incidents of harassment to corroborate your story. Further, it would be beneficial to know if they would be willing to testify to the harassment in court. An attorney can assist you in building a list of and interviewing witnesses.
Hiring an Attorney
One of the most important aspects of building a strong legal sexual harrasment case is hiring an attorney. An attorney will be able to evaluate your case to see if you have an actionable claim. If you can prove the elements of your claim, you are entitled to seek compensation. This compensation may include damages for pain and suffering, harm to your reputation, and out-of-pocket costs related to the harassment.
How Can O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, LLC Help?
At O'Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, LLC, we have skilled sexual harrasment attorneys that understand that sexual harrasment can be traumatizing, both physcially and mentally. Our attorneys fight for every client to help them get the compensation that they deserve.
Further, we know that reaching out and talking about harassment can be difficult. Know that our team will take the best care in making you feel comfortable and safe. If you have been a victim of sexual harrasment, please reach out to us online or call us for a free consultation at 908-373-5938.