Are you a financial planner who is accused of sexual harassment? As a financial planner, you take a lot of steps to mitigate your business risks: you earned certifications to show your specialties, knowledge, and expertise, you insured your business to protect against mistakes or other consequences, and you work with lawyers, tax accountants, and other professionals to make sure your business as a financial planner is above board.
One thing you may not have considered until it’s too late is sexual harassment. Interestingly, we tend to think of sexual harassment occurring in a traditional workplace environment: one colleague harassing another colleague, a boss taking advantage of an employee, or a co-worker seeking to blackmail an upper-level manager or executive in exchange for money or job consideration.
These situations can certainly fall under the heading of sexual harassment in the workplace, but there are wider situations that fall under the California definition of workplace, too, such as sexual harassment by any person you may be working with: clients on a business project, customers seeking legal, financial, accounting, or other assistance on a personal level, etc. One such situation is sexual harassment by a financial planner.
The lawyers and legal professionals at Sexual Harassment Attorney know how to defend against sexual harassment in California. We understand federal, state, and local laws so we can help you make sure that a false accusation doesn’t cost you thousands of dollars. This article is intended to provide general information to financial planners who have been accused of sexual harassment. This article shall not be used as legal advice as only an attorney or legal professional with specific knowledge of your situation can provide such counsel.
Defining and Understanding Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can be a tricky term because it might feel vague or expansive. Indeed, sexual harassment may include all sorts of situations, such as less impactful events like inappropriate jokes or conversation and it can escalate to more severe actions such as sexual assault and rape. In any case involving the law, it is important to understand the legal definitions of such activities.
Sexual harassment is defined as discrimination due to one’s gender or sex. The State of California, through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, includes any unwanted sexual advances as well as any physical, verbal, or visual conduct with a sexual nature in its definition of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can target any person, male, female, or gender non-binary, and it can also be a response to or trigger against a gender-related situation, such as pregnancy childbirth, sexual orientation, and other medical conditions.
Examples of Sexual Harassment
Countless actions or activities can qualify as sexual harassment, but here are some common examples:
Physical conduct: touching a person in an unwanted way, assaulting a person, or impeding or blocking a person’s movements
Verbal conduct: talking in derogatory slurs, comments, epithets, and jokes in general, using specific language about a person’s body, or providing graphic verbal descriptions about one or more people to those people or to others
Visual conduct: making gestures of a sexual nature, leering, or sharing, emailing, texting, or otherwise displaying sexually suggestive pictures, objects, posters, cartoons, or more
Work-related conduct: offering a promotion, job, or other employment benefits in exchange for activities of a sexual nature or specific sexual favors and threatening or going through with vengeful actions (such as firing or demoting) a person after the person responds negatives to such sexual advances
Sexual Harassment is a Workplace Discrimination
Importantly, sexual harassment is, by necessity, discrimination related, directly or indirectly, to the workplace and business. (Contrast this to harassment that occurs in the home or within a domestic relationship – these are more commonly treated as domestic abuse or domestic violence.)
Workplace discrimination is made illegal on the federal level by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and on the state level by the State of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which is overseen by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Here is the difference in the two laws:
At the federal level, it is illegal to make unwelcome sexual advances or otherwise conduct yourself in a sexual nature in a way that results in a hostile, intimidating, offensive, or threatening work environment, due specifically to an employee’s sex.
At the state level, California law is even clearer: such offensive actions, per the federal statute, do not need to be motivated by sexual desire towards another person. In fact, such harassment can be based on your real or perceived gender or sex, your real or perceived sexual orientation, and other medical conditions, like childbirth, pregnancy, sex changes, hormone actions, and other gender-related conditions.
I’m a Financial Planner – How is the Workplace Defined?
We often think of the workplace as row after row of cubicles, with colleagues chatting and working near each other. Or, a series of offices that may provide some privacy or cover for inappropriate sexual behavior or insinuation to occur.
But the laws governing workplace are wider. In fact, workplace sexual harassment applies to any person you may be in contact with, in any place, as a result of business. As a financial planner, you may work for a company and physically work near other financial planners and assistants. These people can be involved in a sexual harassment situation.
Or, you may run your own small business, in a small office, with no colleagues or employees. Even though sexual harassment is known as a workplace discrimination, the workplace is widely defined. The workplace can include any variety of situations, such as but not limited to the following examples:
Meeting a client for a happy hour to go over recent financial documents and questions
Holding a meeting with your assistant in your office
Texting with your boss, who is located in an office in another city
Talking on the phone with potential clients
Attending a conference with other financial planners and experts in other financial industries
I’ve Heard the Term “Hostile Work Environment” – What is it?
A hostile work environment refers to any number of situations wherein repeated, unwanted sexual action or inappropriate sexual conduct makes it difficult, threatening, or uncomfortable for a person to complete his or her work. For instance, a group of colleagues may hit on or flirt with a woman, who does not approve or want this attention. One incident may be tolerable, but if these colleagues continue the behavior on a regular or routine basis, the woman may feel unable to complete her work. The colleagues’ behavior, therefore, results in a hostile work environment.
A hostile work environment is one kind of illegal sexual harassment in California. One more common type of sexual harassment is known as quid pro quo, wherein an implicit or explicit exchange of one thing for another thing (often a sexual favor or sexual act) occurs. For instance, an employee may be eligible for a promotion, but the hiring manager makes it clear that the promotion is yours if you have sex with the hiring manager.
Who Can Make an Accusation of Sexual Harassment?
Anyone you work with in any professional sense could, in theory, accuse you of sexual harassment. Regardless of gender (male, female, gender non-binary, etc.), if you have a professional relationship with a person, they may believe that your actions and behaviors have crossed the line into unwanted sexual attention or inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature.
Particularly common to your type of work are your clients: the men and women, husbands and wives, siblings, property owners, and families who pay you to help plan their spending and invest their money. Whether you meet your clients in your office, in their homes, or in a coffee shop or library, any of these places are considered the workplace.
You’ll also want to be aware of your other professional relationships, such as the following:
Direct or indirect bosses
Franchise or business managers
Assistants or secretaries
Vendors (such as your lawyer, your accountant, your office supply company, etc.)
Educators or trainers
Mentors or mentees
Defending Against Sexual Harassment Charges
As a financial planner, you pay attention to the details. When you mount a defense against charges of sexual harassment, the details are often what will decide your case. Of course, talking with one or more defense attorneys is a crucial first step in building your defense strategy. You’ll want to find a lawyer who understands the type of sexual harassment in question, but also works hard and tirelessly to understand your situation – because all situations are different. Sharing your case openly and honestly with your lawyer is essential to this process.
Once your legal defense team understands the claims being made against you as well as your side of the story, the legal team can explore defense strategies. Your defense team may explore many options, including these common defense strategies against sexual harassment:
The issue at play in a sexual harassment case is often whether the action(s) was indeed unwanted. Did the alleged victim actually not welcome the behaviors or actions in question? Perhaps the alleged victim actually went along with the incidents without expressing that he or she did not want to otherwise do so.
Depending on the alleged victim’s age, if she or he is under 18 years of age (which is the age of consent in California), then consent is a big issue – the person need not necessarily consent to any of the actions for them to be illegal or unwanted.
On the other hand, as a financial planner, you likely wholly deal with clients who are well beyond the age of consent. In these situations, a skilled defense lawyer may be able to sow enough doubt that the alleged victim did consent, whether verbally, non-verbally, or otherwise, to the actions or behaviors in question. At the very least, the jury may wonder why if such alleged activities were indeed unwanted, why didn’t the alleged victim speak up or otherwise disengage from them?
Insanity or permanent or temporary mental incapacity
This strategy usually applies in very rare circumstances. Your attorney, experienced in this defense strategy, may be able to show or prove that, at the time of the incident(s) in question, you were actually insane (whether temporarily or permanently) or otherwise lacking the ability to properly assess the situation in order to determine that the events were inappropriate in nature.
Such a strategy is difficult for a couple reasons:
Firstly, proving insanity can be complicated, especially if you have no prior related mental health situations that a doctor may be able say contributed to your actions (or lack of actions) of the event in question.
Secondly, this strategy is known as an affirmative defense. Whereas in most sexual harassment cases the burden of proof (responsibility to prove) lies with the prosecuting attorney, in this case, the defense lawyer (your lawyer) now takes on the burden of proof.
Should your legal team be considering a strategy of insanity or other mental incapacity, you should prepare yourself for the inherent risks that may play out in both the personal and professional parts of your life.
A good defense lawyer will likely want to explore the motivation of the alleged victim as well as other people involved in bringing a case against you, including the prosecuting lawyer (which is often a state representative), as well as character witnesses, expert witnesses, and others who may benefit from a determination of guilt. For instance, your lawyer could determine that the alleged victim had an external motivation in pursuing such accusations: blackmail for a past or future transgression, revenge for poor management of his/her funds, etc.
Of course, the best strategy may be innocence, especially if your defense has tangible or clear proof that indicates the opposite of what the alleged victim is accusing you of. Importantly, in a criminal case (which many sexual harassment cases are), you can enter a plea of innocence at the onset of the trial.
Determining Guilt in Sexual Harassment Cases
Determining guilt is a complicated matter, which may actually aid in your defense. In many cases, an alleged victim of sexual harassment has only his or her word, against yours. Without evidence or witnesses, proving a charge of sexual harassment is difficult.
In contrast, if your behaviors and activities were apparent in email and text conversations, on the phone, or even in photos, this may suffice as eligible evidence that the prosecuting side (the alleged victim and his/her legal team) may be able to use against you.
Can I Counter-Sue For Damages or Defamation?
You may be able to sue for damages or defamation.
Defamation is the illegal or wrongful damage done to a person’s good reputation. It includes slander, which is spoken (verbal) defamation, as well we libel, which is written defamation. Defamation is a serious situation: if a person accuses you of a serious crime, such as sexual harassment, and you did not actually commit the crime, the verdict (decision) may hurt your reputation as a professional financial planner even if you were determined not guilty of the crime. This can result in professional and personal fallout for you.
Damages, conversely, do not imply that the case destroyed your good reputation. Instead, damages is the catch-all term for an award of compensation (usually money) that is paid as compensation for any loss you may have incurred as a result of the allegations and case brought against you, including bills for court fees and lawyers’ fees, time away from work or income, emotional tolls, etc.
You may be eligible to sue your accuser for damages as a result of the case, but it is best to speak with an attorney to understand this process. Depending on your case alleging sexual harassment, the case was likely pursued as a criminal, not civil, matter, which follows a different court proceeding. If you were to sue for defamation or for damages, however, this would be a civil matter, which can function in very different ways from a criminal proceeding. For instance, your case may be subject to a trial by jury to determine how much money is an appropriate amount, if any money is appropriate at all.
The tricky part is that damages and defamation cases can be notoriously difficult to win, particularly in sexual harassment cases. These legal actions alone may cost more than any money you may collect.
Hiring the Best Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me to Defend My Financial Planner License
First things first: while a formal accusation (charge) of sexual harassment is a serious matter, remember that it is not a determination of guilt. Keep that in mind as you begin navigating this complicated legal and emotional battle. Your first step should be to retain a lawyer’s services – and you can start your legal defense today by contacting Sexual Harassment Lawyer. Our experienced team of criminal defense lawyers and legal professionals and staff are ready to hear your case. We work with clients throughout the State of California, and we’re ready to get to work for you. Call us today at 800-905-1856.