We all like to think that our place of work will be a safe, harassment-free environment and that we will not be discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or any other illegitimate basis. And certainly, the large majority of employers in California are fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. But unfortunately, sexual harassment and a wide range of acts of discrimination do still occur in the workplace in San Diego and throughout the state. And it's not nearly as rare as we might like to believe.
If you believe you have been discriminated against or have suffered harassment based on sex, you don't have to just bear it or forget about it. California provides recourse whereby you can obtain relief and compensation for all wrongful, harassing, or discriminatory actions taken against you. An experienced attorney can help you understand if you have a viable case, and if so, how to proceed.
To learn more and for a free legal consultation, contact Sexual Harassment Attorney anytime 24/7 by calling 800-905-1856. We serve San Diego and all of the state of California.
What Exactly Is "Sexual Harassment?"
In California, sexual harassment is taken very seriously. Any kind of verbal abuse, unwanted touching or sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments, display of sexually graphic images, or harassment of any kind on the basis of a person's sex (gender) can count as "sexual harassment."
Note that a sexual motivation need not be the reason for the harassment for it to be sexual harassment. In other words, if someone is being harassed based on the fact of being a woman (or a man), then it is "sex" based harassment - and that legally equals "sexual harassment" under California law.
The federal Civil Rights Act (Title VII) and the California State Constitution both prohibit sexual harassment or discrimination to an extent, but California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) goes even further. Therefore, most lawsuits for sexual harassment filed in California are based on the FEHA standards.
Also note there is a difference between sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Sex discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates in some way on the basis of sex, while sexual harassment can be committed by a supervisor or coworker without your employer's consent or toleration - in which case, the harasser would be personally liable. With sex (or other forms of) discrimination, the employer would be the liable party.
The Two Main Types of Sexual Harassment
Although there are many fewer common types of sexual harassment, the two main types are known as quid pro quo and hostile workplace.
Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning "this in exchange for that" or "something for something," although its meaning has evolved in English usage over the years. The idea is a favor given with the expectation of the receiver returning the favor with a favor of his/her own.
In the context of sexual harassment, quid pro quo means that some sort of sexual favor is expected to be given in exchange for some kind of employment related benefit. Common examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment include:
- The implication that unless sex is provided to an employer or supervisor, the employee will be fired.
- Sexual favors are required to get hired to begin with.
- Sex or romantic involvement is essential in order to obtain a promotion, a pay raise, or valuable employee benefits like health insurance.
- You are required to dress in a sexually revealing way in order to keep your job, even though it has nothing to do with your job duties.
Note that the "offer" or "deal" involved in quid pro quo sexual harassment does not have to be explicitly stated. It might be implied, communicated through innuendos, or expressed through body language and/or physical contact.
The other major type of sexual harassment that employers can commit is creating or tolerating a hostile workplace. If your boss himself takes part in or encourages such an environment or if he knowingly permits it, refusing to discipline or warn employees who are sexually harassing other employees - that employer would be guilty of hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Hostility based on sex or done from a sexual motive can take many forms. It might be verbal or non-verbal or a combination of the two. But to count legally as the basis for a valid lawsuit, it can't be a mild, questionable, one time event. It has to be of an abusive or intimidating nature and it has to be either extremely severe or sufficiently repetitive that the victims of this harassment are virtually forced to flee the workplace (only staying out of necessity if at all.)
Varieties of Discrimination
Discrimination based on one's sex is only one among many possible forms of illegal discrimination. We at Sexual Harassment Attorney have deep experience in handling all of these types of cases as well.
If someone is subjected to a hostile work environment, fired, not hired, not promoted, denied benefits, or otherwise discriminated on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, medical condition, marital status, military/veteran status, or other reasons that single him or her out for targeting, this is discrimination and can form the basis for a lawsuit.
Also, if a specific person or group is given special favors based on any of the above-listed factors (or because of providing romantic or sexual favors), then those who did not obtain those favors (such as promotions and pay raises) have been discriminated against.
But note that if everyone is treated equally - even if badly, then it cannot count as discrimination. It might be abuse and still be the subject of a different type of lawsuit, but there has to be inequality on the basis of sex, race, religion, or some kind of non-performance related standard, in order for it to legally qualify as "discrimination."
Discrimination Against Women
Perhaps because they are perceived as being more vulnerable, women are often (but not always) the ones targeted for sexual harassment and sex discrimination. This is certainly not a new development, but it's something that is wrong and illegal and can be remedied with legal action if necessary. We've already looked at harassment and discrimination in general, but here, we want to single out two of the most common types of lawsuits filed by women for sex discrimination.
Unequal Pay Discrimination
California and US law demand that equal pay be provided for equal performance without discrimination based on sex (or anything else). This does NOT mean everyone has to be paid the same. There are many legitimate reasons for pay and benefits package compensation differences in the workplace, such as how long you've worked at your current job, experience and skill level, educational achievements, or just greater productivity. BUT, if gender is the reason, or even one of the reasons, why someone is getting paid more than someone else, it is discrimination and violates the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and, as California considers being pregnant a "temporary disability," the Americans with Disabilities Act, both prohibit discrimination against an employer based on the fact of her being pregnant. And the same applies to any medical condition that results from pregnancy or childbirth.
In short, women are considered to have a right to have children if they so choose and without having to automatically lose their job in order to do so. "Reasonable" accommodations have to be made for a pregnant employee during her pregnancy and immediately after giving birth. Unfortunately, many employers decide to just fire someone as soon finding out she's pregnant. Or, they try to demote that employee, reduce her salary, reduce her hours, or maybe cut here benefits. That would be discrimination and not be legal in California.
Wrongful Termination & Constructive Discharge
One of the most common types of discrimination lawsuits is that based on a wrongful termination of employment. While many employers say they are an "at will" employer, this does not make them immune from such a suit if they violated public policy (the law) - but otherwise, an employment contract would have to be violated to win a wrongful termination suit.
Wrongful termination is not being fired "for no reason" or for a reason you didn't agree with but being fired for an "illegal reason." If your employer violated federal or state of California discrimination laws by targeting you for firing, then it is a wrongful termination.
Constructive discharge is a kind of wrongful termination, in a way, but it occurs when you are not actually fired but your employer targets you to force you to quit. If the employer creates working conditions that make your work environment intolerable, it can be treated legally just the same as if you had been fired.
But, you have to have informed your employer first of the intolerable conditions and then nothing was done about it. And it has to be conditions that a reasonable person would agree are intolerable for a person working that specific position in that particular industry. Also, you need to have given a reasonable amount of time for the employer to take corrective action. A final way in which constructive dismissal can take place is if you were forced to quit after being asked by your employer to take part an illegal activity.
Retaliation Is Illegal
It is illegal for an employer to take retaliatory actions against you if you file a lawsuit against him for sexual harassment, discrimination, safety or health violations, or anything else. Nor is retaliation permitted against "whistle blowers" who reveal illegal activities of a company to the media or to authorities.
If an employer fires, suspends, demotes, or otherwise seeks to punish an employee for any of the reasons mentioned above, it is an illegal action. If someone files a lawsuit against his/her employer and the employer retaliates in this way, it becomes the basis of a second lawsuit (which still holds regardless of whether you win the first lawsuit.)
Can "Jokes" Be a Basis for a Lawsuit?
We often get asked whether a joke or other humor that is racially colored or otherwise offensive can be a basis for a harassment lawsuit. The answer is, it depends.
Normally, a joke alone wouldn't be enough. And isolated instances would almost never be sufficient, unless it was a very obvious and severe case. But, if the "jokes" communicate discrimination or contain sexually explicit content AND they are continued for some time even after the employee affected indicates he/she doesn't want to hear them anymore - it could be sexual or other harassment. And, if you complained to your supervisor or boss, and your employer refused to take any action to correct the situation, these kinds of jokes could be at least a part of the evidence in a hostile work environment sexual harassment case.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Complaint
If you've suffered from sexual harassment, or another form of workplace harassment or discrimination, how do you file a legal complaint and take the case to court?
First of all, you should try to resolve the issue by making any complaints known to your employer, but if that fails, then you should talk to an experienced sexual harassment attorney who can assess your case and recommend a future course of action.
Sexual harassment complaints have to be filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing within a year of the incident's occurrence. Next, the department will conduct an investigation for up to 60 days before deciding whether to pursue the matter. If the investigator believes the employer violated the law, then a mediation meeting will be held to try to resolve the matter. If that also fails, then a suit will actually be filed in court. In many cases, employers are willing to make a settlement out of court rather than go to court.
Contacting a Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me
Sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and all other forms of wrongful discrimination are illegal in California, and you don't have to suffer emotionally, physically, or financially due to such actions without legal recourse.
At Sexual Harassment Attorney, we have the training, experience, and resources it takes to win your case. We know how to assess your situation legally, file the appropriate actions in court, and force discriminatory employers to comply with the law.
For a free consultation on your sexual harassment or discrimination complaint, feel free to call us anytime 24/7/365 at 800-905-1856. We have helped many others in San Diego and throughout California, and we stand ready to do the same for you!