There's no bigger real estate market in the US than the one in California, and many enter the industry with high hopes of success, after years of intense training. And yet, realty workplaces are far from free from sexual harassment and discrimination, despite the numerous laws cracking down on these abuses.
If you are a real estate agent who has suffered sexual harassment or discrimination at the hands of his or her superior or coworker, or a client who has suffered from such conduct from your realtor, we can help.
At Sexual Harassment Attorney, we have a thorough knowledge of both federal and state law concerning all forms of illegal harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We have won numerous cases for our past clients throughout the state of California, and we stand ready to do the same for you.
Contact us anytime 24/7 by calling 800-905-1856, and we will give you a free consultation and help you get started in filing your complaint.
Sexual Harassment in The Realty Industry
When you're part of a realty business, or interact with a realtor in seeking to buy or sell a house, there are plenty of opportunities where two people might be alone in a room or house together. And from day to day in a realty office, whether large or small, there are often occasions where superiors or coworkers are able to take advantage of a worker.
To the minds of some, the high stakes nature of dealing in real property and the potentially high incomes and luxurious lifestyles that some realtors manage to achieve, entitles them to treat subordinates or coworkers in a less than professional way.
It's not unheard of for a subordinate realtor to be told she can get a raise or promotion if she goes on a date with a supervisor or even if she agrees to sexual demands. And neither is the realty work environment always free from other forms of harassment and discrimination.
At Sexual Harassment Attorney, we understand the typical ways in which this kind of abuse occurs, and we will listen carefully to your specific situation. We will put the details of the law and the complaint or lawsuit process before you and help you understand what might be your best option going forward.
How Is Sexual Harassment Defined in California?
California's Fair Employment & Housing Act, along with other legislation, makes our state one of the strictest in the nation as to setting up protections against workplace sexual harassment and immediate recourse to those who allege they've suffered from such behavior of others. For this reason, most plaintiffs file charges and otherwise pursue these matters in state rather than in federal court.
Note that sexual harassment means "sex-based harassment." So it doesn't necessarily have to be done in the pursuit of sexual favors, although that is certainly one common type of sexual harassment. It could also be done simply because of a person's gender without any desire for sex involved.
Also, to be sexual harassment, an activity has to be unwelcome and unsolicited. It can't be something that a person asked for or that was consensual or that the other person had any reasonable basis for believing was consensual. It must be done against the wishes of the victim.
Next, the act of harassment must be such that a "reasonable person" would find it offensive. The offense must not only be subjectively offensive, that is, must have actually offended the harassment victim; but, it must also be objectively offensive. It might be verbal, nonverbal, involve physical touching, involve the display of nude female images at a publicly viewable work station, or be offensive objectively an some other way.
Finally, sexual harassment has to meet the mark of being severe and/or pervasive. A one time act isn't usually enough for a lawsuit, although it could be if it was severe enough. Normally, there has to be an ongoing situation where repeated attempts to discourage the behavior were ignored.
Quid Pro Quo & Hostile Work Environment
The two most common types of sexual harassment in California are called quid pro quo and hostile work environment. These are instances where an employer would be liable, not just a coworker.
Quid pro quo comes from the Latin and means "this for that." In the context of sexual harassment usage, it indicates that an offer or threat was made by a supervisor to a worker whereby he or she must provide some kind of sexual favor or romantic relationship in exchange for a work benefit. It might be a matter of getting a promotion if you have sex with someone or of getting fired if you don't, for example.
Hostile work environment occurs when an employer actively encourages or turns a blind eye to sexual harassment in the workplace. This then creates a workplace where people of a particular gender, usually female, feel intimidated, offended, or are the constant target of hostilities based on their sex. If despite complaining to your employer and giving a reasonable amount of time for correction this kind of work environment continues, it can be the basis for a sexual harassment suit against the employer.
Types of Illegal Discrimination
Not only can discrimination occur based on gender, it can also occur based on numerous other illegitimate bases, including: ethnicity, immigration status, age, disability, religious faith, marital status, sexual orientation, and more. Whenever someone is targeted based on these kinds of factors, it becomes the basis for a discrimination lawsuit.
Now, for discrimination to occur, there has to be a difference in the way workers are treated. If an employer is rude to everyone, for example, then while that might be unprofessional it's not discrimination. Illegal discrimination can occur when special favors are given to one group or when negative actions are taken against another for other than a legitimate reason like the experience or skill level of the worker or applicant.
Many times, women suffer the brunt of discrimination in the workplace. It might be a matter of not getting equal pay for equal performance, in violation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. Or, it might be the lack of benefits given to male employees.
One special type of discrimination against women in the workplace is called pregnancy discrimination. Employers are required to treat pregnant employees as having a temporary disability and not discriminate against them. Reasonable accommodations must be made during pregnancy, childbirth, and immediately following. And it is illegal to fire, lay off, cut the salary of, or otherwise take negative employment actions against an employee just because she is pregnant.
Finally, both men and women have the right to certain accommodations so they can take care of their families. This includes sick leave for when children are sick or in the hospital and leave to attend an immediate relative's funeral.
Wrongful Termination, Constructive Discharge, & Retaliation
Quite frequently, sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuits are based upon a wrongful termination. Despite many employers branding themselves as "at will" employers, that does not mean they can literally fire you for any reason - even a discriminatory one. It only means that you have no employment contract - so you can't sue based on a violation of such a contract. But every business must avoid violating public policy in the way they hire and fire.
In some cases, more "clever" employers who want to fire on a discriminatory basis decide to not technically fire you but simply target you. They purposefully create an exceptionally hostile work environment for the express purpose of forcing you to quit. No amount of protest or complaint will move them to correct the situation, and the environment is too much to bear. This is called "constructive discharge" and it counts the same as a wrongful firing as far as the law is concerned.
Also note that if you are asked to partake in an illegal activity and the only way to avoid doing so is to quit, that also counts as a form of constructive discharge.
Finally, a word about employer retaliation. If you file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer while continuing to work there, or if you expose him or her for health and safety violations, illegal activities, or anything else, there's a good chance you'll get fired in retaliation. But that is illegal and is an additional act of discrimination that can be prosecuted in its own right.
And if your employer stops short of firing you in retaliation but gives you a pay cut, demotion, or other negative employment action to "get even" with you for filing a lawsuit - that still counts as retaliation. Regardless of the outcome of the underlying lawsuit, you can file and potentially win a retaliation lawsuit if these things were done to you.
Can "Jokes" Be a Basis for a Lawsuit?
Sometimes people ask us at Sexual Harassment Attorney whether or not jokes are enough to pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit. The answer is a bit more complex than a simple yes or no. Usually, an off color joke or two would not be enough. But on the other hand, severe and persistent jokes of a sexual nature that continue after the victim demands they stop, could be the basis for a lawsuit.
If you complain to your employer, but he or she refuses to take any action to try to stop the harassing jokes, that could be at least one piece of evidence in a bigger "hostile workplace" based sexual harassment suit. And if humor is used as a way to mask making sexually explicit comments about a coworker's body or otherwise harass someone based on gender, it might qualify as sexual harassment.
Employer Training Requirements
Under California law, standards of anti-sexual harassment training are very high, higher than in most other US states. California's Fair Employment & Housing Act already requires companies with fifty or more workers to provide 2 hours of sexual harassment training to new hires and to all employees every 2 years.
New legislation is being considered in 2018 that might require sexual harassment training be provided by employers with as few as 5 employees. Plus, since 2015, training must also be provided to help prevent all manner of "abusive conduct" in the workplace - that is, workplace "bullying."
If an employer failed to fully comply with all sexual harassment prevention laws, that can subject them to fines or other legal consequences. It could also make them liable for sexual harassment committed by an employee that otherwise the employee him or her self would have been personally liable for instead.
If a supervisor commits sexual harassment or the employer is guilty of quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment, there's already liability there. But avoiding also being liable for the actions of every employee is a big motivation to employers for abiding by sexual harassment training regulations.
Filing for Sexual Harassment
It's not uncommon that those suffering from some form of sexual harassment or discrimination in a realty workplace or in any other setting aren't aware of what steps they need to take in the aftermath. The first step is to attempt resolving the matter by complaining to your employer and giving a reasonable amount of time for him or her to correct the situation.
If that fails, next, you should talk to a sexual harassment lawyer for advice and so you know what your options are ahead. It may be time to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment & Housing, which will then investigate the matter. The department will have up to sixty days to decide if they think the claim is valid. If so, they will start negotiations for a settlement with your employer. Otherwise, they will give you a "right to sue" paper so that you can pursue the matter yourself in court should you decide to do so.
Contacting a Sexual Harassment Attorney Near Me
Sexual harassment and discrimination are still far too common in California, including in the realty industry. If you as a realtor have suffered harassment from your employer, supervisor, or a coworker, OR if you as a client have encountered sexual harassment from your realtor, do not hesitate to call us.
We have extensive experience in federal and California harassment and discrimination laws, the court and administrative processes involved, and in understanding the real life situations people find themselves in. We have won numerous past cases involving the realty industry and practically every other California industry. We will know how to win your case.