Sexual harassment is an unpleasant reality in many workplaces across the US, and the state of California, despite its exceptionally strict sexual harassment legislation is no exception. The banking industry is also no exception - many who are high up in the workplace, such as company owners and supervisors, may wrongly feel they are entitled to take liberties with those under their authority.
Too many people, especially women, in the banking industry have suffered sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination. This wrongful conduct comes in many forms, and it often goes unreported or uncorrected. But it doesn't have to be that way.
At Sexual Harassment Attorney, we have helped numerous other victims of workplace sexual harassment or another form of discriminatory action secure settlements, regain their jobs, reclaim their careers, and otherwise see things set right in the aftermath of a sexual harassment issue.
Contact us anytime, 24/7, at 800-905-1856 for a free legal consultation and for timely advice on what to do next.
How Is Sexual Harassment Defined in California?
While sexual harassment can occur anywhere and involve anyone, it occurs most frequently in the workplace and is more often a matter of women suffering harassment from men.
Sexual harassment is in one sense a form of discrimination since people are targeted based on their gender for unwanted sexual advances. But discrimination is a broader category: it can be based on sex (gender), race, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, age, disability, or a host of other non-work related criteria.
Sexual harassment is sex-based discrimination that may or may not be a matter of someone demanding sexual favors. It could just be sexually derogatory comments, posting of sexually graphic images at a workstation, demoting or cutting an employee's pay because of gender, or of throwing tools at a woman construction worker at a job site to drive her off the project.
California's Fair Employment & Housing Act set up high standards for employers, and the Department of Fair Employment & Housing makes it easy to access help and file a complaint if you feel you've been discriminated against or harassed. But there are still some rules and limits on what can count as sexual harassment in California.
For example, harassment has to be either severe enough or to have occurred persistently enough over a period of time despite complaints made to one's employer. Also, sexual advances have to be unwanted and unsolicited to count as harassment.
When Can I File For Sexual Harassment?
Technically, you can immediately file a sexual harassment complaint anytime with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. But you obviously want to be sure that your complaint is likely to go somewhere before making that move. So, when should you file might be a better question.
First of all, you normally want to have made an honest attempt to resolve the issue with your employer before filing a complaint. In extreme cases where the employer himself is the perpetrator, that may be foregone; but otherwise, you should complain to your employer or supervisor to seek resolution and give a reasonable amount of time for corrections to be made.
If you've done that and it hasn't worked, it may be time to contact a sexual harassment attorney and have a conversation. We can evaluate your complaint and advise you on the best way to proceed. Usually, you would file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment & Housing at this point - and we can help you get the paperwork right and ensure you don't commit any missteps in the filing process.
The department would then have up to 60 days to contact your employer, conduct an investigation, and decide on whether or not to seek a settlement on your behalf. If they do, you may be able to settle out of court. But, if the department chooses not to pursue the matter, you still can - OR, if your employer won't settle, you can take the matter to court.
Finally, realize that there is a one-year statute of limitations on most sexual harassment claims in California. That means you must file within 12 months of the last incident involved in your sexual harassment complaint. In some cases, you can get a 90-day extension to that year if you weren't aware of all the facts of the case till after a year has passed.
Types of Sexual Harassment
There are many different types of sexual harassment that take place in today's workplace. They can range in severity from "jokes" with sexually explicit comments in them to unwanted touching with sexual overtones to demands made by a supervisor for sexual favors in exchange for work benefits.
If sexual harassment involves sexual touching, particularly of private areas, it could also be sexual assault and/or molestation. Non-verbal cues, posting of sexual pictures at a cubicle or on your Facebook page, unwanted "sexting," or describing having sex with someone graphically to that person are other forms of sexual harassment.
However, most of those actions would have only a coworker liability attached to them unless the employer refused to correct the situation - OR, if it was a supervisor or the employer him or her self who committed them. Failing to abide by California law on sexual harassment training and prevention measures could also make an employer liable.
Most commonly, however, there are two major kinds of workplace sexual harassment where the employer is liable: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo comes from a Latin phrase meaning "this for that" and refers, in this context, to a form of sexual harassment where a supervisor or employer offers an employment benefit, such as a promotion or a raise, in exchange for sexual or romantic favors. Or, in the negative, quid pro quo could be in the form of a threat to fire someone if that person doesn't comply with sexual demands.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employer purposefully creates or negligently permits a workplace situation to continue that is hostile towards some workers based on their gender (or based on race, religion, or another discriminatory reason.) To make this kind of charge stick in court, you would need to have issued a complaint against your employer first and given an opportunity for the work environment problem to be corrected. But if an employer allows his workers to sexually harass their coworkers, the employer becomes guilty as well of sexual harassment legally.
Types of Illegal Discrimination
Whether based on sex or on some other type of illegitimate basis, discrimination can reveal itself in many forms. It would probably be impossible to list them all here - but here are some of the most common types of discrimination:
- Rejection of job applicants based on sex, race, age, mental or physical handicap, and other discriminatory grounds.
- Refusal to promote, give a pay raise, or give equal benefits too.
- Demotions, pay cuts, benefits cuts, or assignment to unpleasant tasks on a discriminatory basis.
- Firing or laying someone off for illegitimate reasons.
- Giving employment benefits to someone based on a romantic relationship - this is discrimination against other workers who are thus treated unfairly by comparison.
- Disciplining someone more severely because of their ethnicity or gender.
- Not allowing women reasonable accommodations when pregnant or firing them or cutting their pay once it's learned they've become pregnant.
- Not allowing time for those with families to attend to sick family members in the hospital or at home or to attend funerals of immediate family members.
- Not paying workers equally for equal performance, based on gender for example.
The above is only a partial list, of course, of the near endless varieties of discriminatory employment actions that can occur. The general principle is that employers can't treat people unequally unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so.
So for example, if one worker gets paid more than someone else because he has seniority, has a higher level of relevant education, has more work experience, and is more productive - that's not illegal, that's normal. BUT, if a worker who immigrated from Mexico is paid less because of his national origin or race or because of the immigration status of the worker - that is illegal discrimination and can be prosecuted.
Wrongful Termination, Constructive Discharge, & Retaliation
In a context where sexual harassment and discrimination run rampant in a workplace, it's a very common thing that people get fired for illegitimate and illegal reasons. It's not always easy to prove why someone got fired, but in other cases, there is enough evidence and it's obvious enough that it can indeed be established and become the basis for a lawsuit.
If your employment contract was violated when you were fired OR if public policy as indicated in California state law or federal law were violated (even by an "at will" employer) when you were terminated, then it was a wrongful termination.
Now, some employers get a bit more "savvy" in how they fire you illegally. They may, for example, decide not to technically fire you but just force you to quit. If you were targeted in this way, and a hostile work environment was created on purpose to force you out - and you complained but your complaints went unheeded, then it is "constructive discharge." And a constructive discharge counts just like a wrongful termination legally under California law.
Finally, there are times when a person is fired or suffers other negative employment action based on the fact he or she has already filed a sexual harassment suit against his/her employer. Or, it could be because of being a "whistleblower" on illegal activities or on health & safety violations or for filing some other type of lawsuit against the employer. This is called "employer retaliation" and is illegal. Retaliation becomes the basis for a new lawsuit that can be found in your favor even if the underlying lawsuit being retaliated against is not.
What Kind of Damages Can You Collect in a Sexual Harassment Suit?
Once you do have valid grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit, the question comes up - how is sexual harassment punished in California? The law makes the employer or an individual liable to the plaintiff. The Fair Employment & Housing Act allows for both economic damages, like loss of income, back pay, loss of benefits, or being paid unequally on an illegitimate basis AND for non-economic damages for emotional distress.
Also, a judge may impose punitive damages as well on violators to discourage other employers from doing likewise. It's also possible someone could be personally liable even if the company is also liable. Finally, note that a court may also issue an injunction to prevent discriminatory actions of an employer even before a final ruling is made - this can bring immediate relief that will continue should the plaintiff win the case in the end.
Most sexual harassment attorneys work on a contingency basis so that you will have few if any upfront costs of hiring a lawyer. If you win the case, your lawyer will take a predetermined percentage of the settlement or court judgment. Plus, the attorney is given, under the Fair Employment & Housing Act, certain reasonable attorneys fees that have to be paid by the defendant if he/she loses the case.
Note that you don't have to be able to prove you suffered financial harm to file a sexual harassment suit. If you did, your compensation would be substantially increased, however. There is no cap on how much compensation you can receive in sexual harassment damages under California law (but under federal law, there is, which is another reason many file under state law.)
The amount is simply determined on a case by case basis. The egregiousness of the violations, the number of violations, the duration of them, and the actual impacts on the plaintiff will all be taken into account.
Contacting a Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me
At Sexual Harassment Lawyer, we stand ready 24/7, 365 days a year to answer your urgent call for help. Contact us at 800-905-1856 and we will immediately give you a free, no obligation consultation on the details of your sexual harassment or discrimination case.
Whether you work for a banker, are a banker whose employer or supervisor took advantage or a client who was sexually harassed by someone in the banking industry, we are here to assist you. We understand how these types of incidents typically work, and we will listen carefully to your story and help you make an informed decision on how to proceed.
We have won for many other past clients in California, and we can do the same for you!