Sexual harassment has been a major issue in the workplace for decades, and despite passage of strict anti-harassment and anti-discrimination legislation by both the federal government and the state of California, these kinds of abuses are still far too common.
As a major center of employment and the largest metropolitan area in California, Los Angeles has more than its fair share of sexual harassment incidents and other discriminatory employer actions. But if you have been affected negatively by these kinds of illegal activities by a current or former employer, you don't have to sit idly by and do nothing.
At Sexual Harassment Attorney, we understand the legal ins and outs of how harassment and discrimination are defined in California and of how to successfully navigate the bureaucracy and the court system to win fair and just compensation for those who have been victimized.
For more information on what counts as sexual harassment in California, or for a free legal consultation and immediate attention to your needs, feel free to call us anytime 24/7 at 800-905-1856 for help!
Sexual Harassment Law in California
Recently, the California State Assembly has made sexual harassment legislation a major priority and considered several new bills that would do things like require companies with 5 or more employees (instead of as currently 50 or more) to provide sexual harassment training to all their workers, allow sexual harassment suits by non-employees, make employees personally liable if they retaliate against other employees complaining about harassment/discrimination, and stipulate that businesses must be able to produce a 10-year record of sexual harassment complaints upon request from investigators.
But even if none of these new measures pass, California's current Fair Employment & Housing Act and other anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws are already among the strictest in the nation. They are much more comprehensive than the Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.
But what exactly is "sexual harassment" as defined under California law? To answer that, we first need to distinguish between sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
Sex discrimination is when an employer or a potential employer fails to hire you, fires you, demotes you, cuts your salary, or otherwise unfairly discriminates against you based on gender.
Either a company or an individual can be liable in a sexual harassment case. Sexual harassment is when, based on sex or out of an attempt to get sexual favors, someone persecutes you with unwelcome sexually explicit language or images, harasses you with unwanted touching, body language, or sexual innuendos, or makes offers/threats where you have to provide sexual favors in order to do well in the workplace.
There are two major classes of sexual harassment recognized by California courts: quid pro quo and hostile workplace.
A "quid pro quo" violation is when an employer or supervisor says or suggests he will hire you, promote you, give you a raise or provide some other work-related benefit in exchange for sex or anything sexual or romantic in nature. It could also happen where a threat to fire, demote, or cut a salary is made based on a demand for sexual attention.
A hostile work environment means one in which sexual harassment is committed, encouraged, or knowingly permitted by the employer. There may not be any offer or threat, but there is an ongoing state of hostility, intimidation, and offense based on either a person's gender or on the desire to get sexual favors from another person.
To be a valid complaint, sexual harassment need only be sex-based (not necessarily sex-seeking), but it must involve unwelcome and unsolicited advances, must be "severe" and "pervasive" rather than a mild, one-time incident, and must be something that a "reasonable person" would find extremely offensive.
Anti-Discrimination Law in California
In 1980, California passed the Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA), which remains the major law relied on in almost all Los Angeles and California based discrimination lawsuits, as well as harassment lawsuits. The Department of Fair Employment & Housing was also established to investigate complaints and to prosecute violators.
Damages are allowed against those employers who discriminate against employers or applicants, and the employer also has to pay the legal fees of the complaining party if he/she wins the case.
Discrimination can come in a wide variety of forms, such as:
- Refusal to hire.
- Passing over for promotion.
- Firing or laying off.
- Pay cuts or lack of a raise.
- Exclusion from employee benefits.
- Assignment to unpleasant tasks.
- Being given a degraded office.
- Being put in unsafe working conditions.
- Mocking and verbal abuse.
On the one hand, none of the acts listed above are automatically discrimination; and on the other hand, there are yet additional ways an employer can discriminate.
What makes a negative action against an employee discriminatory? If it is done specifically (or partly) because of that employee's:
- Race or ethnicity.
- Religion or personal beliefs.
- Immigration status.
- National origin.
- Health condition.
- Physical or mental disability.
- Sex (gender).
- Sexual orientation.
- Political affiliation.
- Cultural identity.
- Physical build/weight.
- Any other illegitimate basis for employment related decisions.
Many have suffered from discrimination, not just emotionally and mentally but financially as well. This kind of behavior by employers is still far too common in L.A. and throughout California, and unfortunately, it often takes swift, forceful legal action to correct it, compensate for it, and prevent it.
Discrimination Against Women & Families
Since 1993, with the passage of the California Family Rights Act, family related leave became a right under certain specific circumstances. These include leave for giving birth, for dealing with issues of adoption or foster care, and for major health problems of a child, spouse, parent, or the employee him or her self.
It is also against the law to discriminate against women while they are pregnant. According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, workers who are pregnant are temporarily counted as if they had a disability and enjoy all the benefits of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Women do not have to give up the right to have a child in order to retain their jobs, and employers who fire, demote, or cut the salaries of pregnant employees can face discrimination charges. Also, it is the duty of every employer to make all reasonable accommodations for an employee while she is pregnant and for any health conditions that may stem from her being pregnant or having just given birth.
Quite often, lawsuits are filed for alleged lack of equal pay, and usually it's women who make these complaints. If a worker is equally valuable to a business in every other way but she gets paid less just because she's a woman, then that is illegal sex discrimination. Now, it's important to note that if job skills and training, experience, seniority, or other factors are the reason for a pay disparity, there's nothing illegal about that. But anytime gender is the reason, or even one among multiple reasons, for a pay difference - it's a true case of workplace discrimination.
While employers can hire and fire whom they want, there are some limitations on that principle legally in California. First of all, you cannot violate an employment contract when you fire someone - or else you can be sued for breach of contract.
"At will employers" have no such contractual agreement, so they can't be liable for a breach of contract for firing someone. But that doesn't make them immune from a potential wrongful termination suit because no business is allowed to terminate an employee in a way that violates public policy.
That is, you can't discriminate against someone in the act of firing them since that is a violation of both federal and state law.
Many employers who are a bit more "savvy" to the anti-discrimination laws on the books may try to circumvent them by not technically firing you but by purposefully trying to make your job so oppressive that it's virtually intolerable for you to keep working there. Finally, they hope, you will quit and they won't be subject to a discrimination lawsuit.
But the state government is aware of this tactic, which is called "constructive discharge," and have made it illegal. The creation of a hostile work environment in order to make someone quit counts just the same as a wrongful termination legally.
There are some "rules," however. You can't just say your job was intolerable because it was hard and you felt picked on and win a constructive discharge lawsuit. Your employer had to be aware of what was going on, and in most instances, you have to have complained to your employer and given a reasonable amount of time for corrections to be made.
Finally, note that if an employer tried to require you to commit illegal acts as part of your job and you're basically forced to quit in order to avoid breaking the law - then that's another form of constructive dismissal plus possible criminal charges for whatever illegal acts were going on.
Very frequently, when an employee reports on health or safety violations in the workplace, reveals some illegal activity going on to police or to media outlets, or files a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit against his/her employer, the employer will "strike back" in some way. This is called "retaliation" and is an illegal act that is also considered a form of discrimination.
If your boss fires you, lays you off, commits constructive discharge, switches you to a different position and assigns you harsh tasks, yells and screams in your face every time you two are in the same room, cuts your pay in half, strips away all your employee benefits, or takes any kind of negative action against you based on your having filed a sexual harassment or other lawsuit against him, then that becomes the basis for yet another lawsuit.
Humor & Harassment
Sometimes people ask, "Can offensive jokes be a valid basis for a sexual harassment lawsuit or for harassment based on race, religion, or some other kind of discrimination?" The short answer is "yes, it's possible." But the long answer is, "not very likely unless other factors apply."
Trying to mask harassment behind humor does not excuse it. That said, a single off color joke would not be enough. Normally, there would have to be a pattern of forcing someone to listen to sexually explicit or otherwise harassing "jokes" after they continually say they don't want to hear it.
It's also possible that an employer who permits this kind of behavior and refuses to correct it after you've complained about the actions of a supervisor or coworker, could be guilty of creating a hostile, toxic work environment.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Suit
You can't always immediately run out and file for sexual harassment as soon as an incident occurs - but, sometimes you can. It depends on the nature and severity of the incident. In many cases, however, you need to first try to resolve the issue with your employer and give him or her a chance to correct it.
You'll also want to waste no time in contacting a good lawyer for legal advice. Your lawyer can help you understand the law and your options going forward.
The next step is to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing. Note this has to be done within one year of the incident or you could lose your right to file.
Within 60 days of receiving your complaint, the department will decide whether or not to pursue it. If so, an investigation will be conducted and your employer will be contacted and asked about the alleged harassment.
A mediation meeting will be held if your employer is deemed to have violated the law. If no resolution can be achieved in the meeting in an out of court settlement, then the case will go to court.
Contacting a Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me
All forms of workplace harassment and discrimination, be they sex based or not, are very serious matters. Sexual Harassment Attorney understands how deeply this kind of illegal activity by an employer, supervisor, or coworker can affect you, both emotionally and financially.
We have the expertise it takes to win your sexual harassment or discrimination case. We know how to file and pursue these matters efficiently and how to win a fair settlement or judgment for our clients. We've done it for numerous others in Los Angeles and throughout California in the past, and we can do it for you too!