With major headlines proclaiming that sexual harassment laws are changing in California, now is an excellent time to be sure you are informed of your rights as a sexual harassment victim in the workplace. Sexual Harassment Attorney is a Bakersfield law firm that understands the details of these difficult cases and wants to assist clients in Bakersfield and all across the state of California.
The State of California gives a very clear overview of what constitutes sexual harassment. Basically, any unwanted advances of a sexual nature – whether they are physical, verbal, or visual – may be described as sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can occur between persons of the same gender, though most offenses pass between persons of opposite genders. A few examples of sexual harassment behaviors would include:
- Visual examples – displaying objects, cartoons, posters, or pictures that are sexually suggestive
- Verbal examples – using epithets, jokes, slurs, sexually degrading words, or comments about a person’s body
- Physical examples – inappropriate touching, blocking or impeding another person’s movements, or any form of assault
Offering any benefits related to employment in exchange for sexual favors is definitely a harassment behavior, as is threatening retaliation for any negative response to a form of sexual advances.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have Experienced Sexual Harassment?
Contacting a qualified attorney who specializes in sexual harassment is one of the most important things you can do so that your rights are preserved, and you are represented adequately to government agencies. You will definitely want to contact law enforcement if you feel that you are being sexually harassed to the level of an assault or violence.
The State of California also maintains a complete listing of sexual violence information and resources for anyone who is or feels they may be a victim of sexual harassment or violence.
How Do I Know If I Am Being Sexually Harassed at My Work?
California law defines workplace sexual harassment in at least two ways:
- The situation known as “quid pro quo” harassment, which involves a supervisor or person in what would be considered a superior position in the workplace who attempts to obtain sexual favors in exchange for preferential treatment in the workplace.
- A situation that could be described as a hostile work environment whereby a person is being impacted negatively by unwelcome sexual comments or advances in the workplace.
Either of these types of behavior is forbidden under California’s Government Code 12940, which is known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Understanding “Quid Pro Quo” Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
You may have a valid complaint of sexual harassment in your workplace based on the “quid pro quo” concept if you have ever had a supervisor say or suggest that you could gain an advantage in your employment – or avoid a negative situation – by performing any type of sexual service.
There are three elements of a claim or lawsuit involving quid pro quo sexual harassment in California:
- You, as the employee, received unwelcome sexual comments, demands, or advances;
- These demands, comments, or advances came from a person with higher authority than you in the workplace; in other words, a supervisor (either your direct supervisor, or a manager or company authority higher than your supervisor);
- You experienced a tangible employment action (such as a demotion, failure to receive a promotion, or were fired) as a result of your refusal to submit to a supervisor’s demands for sexual activity.
An important note is that any “quid pro quo” promise or threat by a supervisor can be either implied or explicit.
Understanding Hostile Work Environment as Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
A differing category of sexual harassment is known as a hostile work environment. You may have a claim for this type of sexual harassment if the following elements have occurred in your work experience:
- You, as the employee, received unwelcome sexual comments, demands, or advances;
- These behaviors are based on your gender (whether same-sex or opposite sex);
- The harassment you are experiencing is pervasive or severe enough to have altered the conditions of your employment (also known as creating a hostile work environment.)
It is important to note that such advances and actions must be considered to be either “pervasive” or “severe” in the workplace. They can be either, but do not have to be both.
If this type of behavior is isolated, sporadic, trivial, or merely occasional it will probably not qualify as a claim of sexual harassment under the hostile work environment approach.
Again, a qualified attorney can help you understand your situation and decide if you qualify for a claim or lawsuit of sexual harassment in the workplace.
What Steps Should I Take If I Want to File a Claim for Sexual Harassment at Work?
In order to preserve your rights and maintain an effective case in your pursuit of a sexual harassment claim, there are three steps you should consider taking. These include informing a supervisor or member of the Human Resources staff at your place of employment; filing a harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (aka, DFEH); and, after receiving a notice from DFEH known as your “right to sue”, you can file a civil lawsuit seeking restitution from your harasser and/or employer.
Let’s break each of those actions down with more detail.
Step One: Inform Your Employer of Your Complaint
California law requires all employers to have a written anti-harassment procedure and they must inform all employees of the policy. That written statement should specify a person or office to which all complaints of harassment can be directed.
Other ways to inform your employer might include a manager in human resources, a coordinator of equal opportunity or diversity, a designated complaint hotline, or an outside person or agency for discrimination and/or harassment complaints.
Many people wonder why they shouldn’t simply file a complaint first, rather than speaking to a representative of their employer. There are some good reasons to go to your employer first. You may discover that your employer will take immediate action and will stop the harassing activity. Even if your employer does not take action, you will be building a stronger case when you do file your complaint with the state.
This gives you two key advantages should your complaint end up in court: you will negate any argument from your employer that you did not take advantage of their anti-harassment procedure, and you will be able to demonstrate that your employer did not take adequate steps to prevent the harassment you reported.
Step Two: Filing a Complaint About Sexual Harassment with DFEH
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has a detailed procedure for considering complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Once you have decided you wish to file a complaint, you must do so within one year of the time the harassment occurred.
- You have a choice whether you would like to have DFEH investigate the claim directly, or whether you would prefer to file your own lawsuit by seeking a “Right to Sue” notice.
- Either way, you will want to have several important pieces of information available for the process – including the specific facts and any records about the specific incident or incidents; documents that could support your complaint; any collaborating witnesses or those who could speak on your behalf.
DFEH will evaluate your case and its facts and will decide whether to accept your case. If DFEH does accept the case, they will prepare a complaint form that you will need to sign. When the complaint is signed, DFEH will deliver the complaint to the person or entity that you have named as the respondent.
Step Three: Filing a Lawsuit for Sexual Harassment
If the California DFEH finds that your case has merit, they will seek to resolve the complaint with your employer. If this does not happen, they will file a lawsuit on your behalf seeking appropriate restitution. If you have obtained a “right to sue” notice, you can proceed with your own civil lawsuit against the aggressor or company where the harassment occurred.
Once you have obtained the “right to sue” notice from DFEH, you have one year to proceed with a lawsuit. An experienced sexual harassment attorney can be extremely helpful whichever course you decide to pursue and can help you evaluate your options and best course for proceeding.
How Do I Know If I Have a Case for Sexual Harassment Against My Employer?
All of this information is important to understand, but you might wonder if you really have been victimized by sexual harassment at your workplace and whether you have a valid complaint and possible court case. Here is a summary of how to know you are a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace:
- You have received unwanted sexual advances.
- You have been subjected to taunts or insults of a sexual nature. This can include activities such as sexting, viewing pornography, or receiving sexual emails (including supposedly “innocent” jokes of a sexual nature.)
- You have a former significant other as your supervisor,and they have coerced you into sexual acts.
- You have been asked unwanted questions about your body or that have intruded into your private life.
- You have been told that you must provide sexual activity in order to continue working in your job.
- You have felt pressured to provide sexual activities or go along with sexual behavior in the workplace in order to keep a job or make advancement in the company.
- You have been repeatedly touched while at work, without your consent.
- You have been asked on more than one occasion to go on a date or attend an unwanted “meeting” outside of work.
California’s Newest Law Regarding Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
On January 1, 2019, California extended its protection against sexual harassment in the workplace by enforcing a new law that adds several new components to the already existing legal codes in the state, known as Code of Civil Procedure, CCP § 1002.
The new law includes elements that prohibit preventing disclosure of facts presented in a sexual harassment settlement, such as:
- Actions defined as sexual harassment in the workplace;
- Actions defined as sex discrimination in the workplace;
- Any failure to prevent actions ofsexual harassment or sex discrimination in the workplace; and
- Retaliating against a person who reports sex discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace.
The law maintains a provision for safeguarding the identity of any victims of sexual harassment, including the disclosure of any facts that might lead to the victim’s identity. This provision is put into effect at the request of the victim in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Recent Sexual Harassment Cases in California
One example of a recent settlement of workplace sexual harassment claims came from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in its decision against Alorica, Inc. Alorica is a call-center company in Irvine, CA that agreed to pay $3.5 million to workers who experienced sexual harassment on the job.
The suit was brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that both male and female employees were the subjects of harassment, including a sex-based hostile work environment. Human resources personnel failed to respond adequately to numerous complaints by workers. The Lost Angeles Times reported that at least 44 workers were involved in the settlement of the case, though others may still be pending.
Observers of the Alorica suit noted that one of the major outcomes, in addition to the economic judgments rendered, was the protection of employees’ right to file complaints when employers fail to protect them from sexual harassment – and to do so without fear of retaliation.
A second California case of sexual harassment in the workplace was reported against Goodwill of the Greater East Bay in Oakland, California. That case has been settled with an $850,000 settlement and involved eight female workers. In addition to the monetary settlement, Goodwill of Greater East Bay was required to make revisions to their complaint and investigation procedures, as well as hire an outside consultant to oversee responses to any future complaints.
Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me
If you feel that you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in the Bakersfield, CA area, Sexual Harassment Attorney is a law firm dedicated to helping you understand your rights and assisting you as you pursue rightful restitution for your suffering. You can reach out to Sexual Harassment Lawyer from anywhere in California by calling 800-905-1856.