San Diego Office
San Diego Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Did you know that less than 10% of sexual harassment victims formally complain about their treatment? Instead, most victims accept the harassment or avoid the harasser to preserve their jobs and industry reputation. San Diego's high cost of living means women subjected to workplace sexual harassment often fear losing their jobs, benefits, or promotion opportunities if they complain. While California prohibits retaliating against sexual harassment claimants in this way, it seldom stops offenders and the superiors from protecting themselves by creating unbearably hostile work environments.
We understand the potential financial and emotional implications of standing up for your rights at our firm. Our exclusive San Diego workplace harassment lawyers can confidentially help eligible sexual harassment claimants understand their rights and fight for needed relief without any upfront costs. Schedule your free and private San Diego sexual harassment legal consultation with us today by calling or connecting with us online.
Understanding What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in California
Both federal and state laws protect employees from unwanted or unlawful sexual advances at work. California generally defines harassment as any physical, verbal, or visual conduct that degrades, threatens, or otherwise interferes with an employee's normal job duties. Sexual harassment is a subset of harassment that commonly includes unwanted sexual advances, especially requests for sexual favors in exchange for job benefits. Employees, job applicants, independent contractors, volunteers, and interns all qualify for protection under California anti-harassment laws. Behaviors constituting workplace sexual harassment include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Creating and sending sexually derogatory cartoons, posters, videos, photos, and emails to coworkers
- Outright requesting sexual favors from coworkers or employees
- Making sexually inappropriate jokes, speaking with sexual innuendos, and using sexually derogatory language at work
- Stalking, such as waiting for victims in parking garages, following them around work, or repeatedly sending texts and messages of a sexual nature
- Constantly asking coworkers out and engaging in sexual behaviors that interrupt their concentration and work responsibilities
- Committing sex crimes in the workplace, including indecent exposure, sexual battery, and rape
- Threatening any of the above actions
- Encouraging or assisting others in committing sexual harassment
Sexual harassment claims generally involve one major incident of harassment, such as the boss propositioning his intern or multiple minor incidents creating workplace hostility. Consider the following three common types of workplace sexual harassment in San Diego.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
This type of harassment, epitomized by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, occurs when individuals in authority directly or indirectly request sexual favors in exchange for job-related benefits or based on career threats. Both men and women can experience quid pro quo harassment, and the requests might be indirect. Examples include corporate owners offering promotions conditioned on sexual favors or implying that employees might not receive favorable reviews if they don’t engage in unwanted sexual conduct.
California law prohibits such direct conduct, see 2 CCR § 11019(b)(2)(D), which is why many employers engage in subtler tactics. Examples usually include corporate owners asking out young employees knowing they will feel obligated to accept. For this reason, both direct and indirect actions may qualify as quid pro quo harassment in San Diego. Such harassment may include blocking doors, changing employee schedules to match harassing supervisors, sending unsolicited messages, or making inappropriate sexual comments or gestures. It's always wise to connect with local sexual harassment counsel if someone with authority has directly or indirectly created a sexually hostile work environment. You might file a complaint with state or federal authorities, triggering neutral and confidential investigations.
If the offender commits a sex crime in the workplace, this generally qualifies as sexual harassment. The claimant might file a police report, civil litigation for sexual battery, and a harassment complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. California sex crimes include rape, sexual assault, molestation, unwanted sexual touching, indecent exposure, sex-based hate crimes, and unwanted distribution of obscene matter. They might also include conduct such as abduction for sexual purposes, which may simply mean pushing victims up against the wall, grabbing their wrists and pulling them into offices, or otherwise preventing free movement through physical or verbal intimidation.
Attempting this conduct or aiding others in the misconduct, such as keeping a lookout for coworkers, also qualifies as unlawful sexual conduct in San Diego. Generally, victims may discuss obtaining a restraining order against the offender (often covering the work environment and forcing termination) and suing the harasser for financial damages. Employers might also bear liability for this criminal conduct if employees previously filed complaints about the offender or the employer failed to conduct thorough background checks. Contact law enforcement officials and a workplace sexual harassment attorney immediately if you've been sexually victimized in your workplace.
Hostile Work Environments
Many viable San Diego sexual harassment claims do not involve underlying sex crimes or clear quid pro quo harassment. Offenders are taking more subtle approaches following the "me too" movement. Harasses frequently create hostile work environments through their sexually harassing conduct or in retaliation for rejecting sexual propositions. Gender-motivated conduct creating hostile work environments commonly includes:
- Making unwanted sexual advances and repeated relationship requests, especially after the victim declines
- Spreading rumors about an employee's sexual reputation
- Engaging in physically intimidating behavior including blocking doorways, following claimants to their cars, refusing to physically distance, or consistently staring and crowding
- Commenting on the claimant's physical appearance or sexuality
- Making sexual gestures and non-verbal innuendos
- Engaging in unwanted physical touching with indirect sexual undertones, such as grazing shoulders, hands, and hips, or touching hair
- Engaging in conduct the harasser knows offends the claimant based on specific religious and cultural practices
Hostile work environment claims frequently support civil litigation, such as intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and slander. Do not ignore workplace discomfort in San Diego. Attorneys could help claimants discuss their concerns with human resources, file sexual harassment complaints, and understand their right to cease working and trigger constructive wrongful termination (forced resignation) protections.
Parties Protected by Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination Laws in San Diego
While women make up the majority of sexual harassment complainants, anyone can experience workplace harassment and gender-based discrimination. Men of different sexualities and transgender individuals often suffer from various forms of sex-based harassment. Many sexual harassment cases also involve unlawful discrimination, especially in quid pro quo cases. Examples include managers reducing female employees' hours after they refuse their sexual advances. Equal Opportunity Employment (“EEO”) laws and Cal. Gov. Code § 12940 also make it unlawful for San Diego employers to discriminate against employees based on their marital status, sexual orientation, gender, and sexual identity. Discrimination qualifying as sexual harassment often includes refusing to promote female or transgender employees after making comments about their sexuality and physical appearance. Sexual harassment generally singles out individuals based on their gender and marital status; as such, speak with a San Diego harassment lawyer about your rights under federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Anticipating and Addressing Employer Retaliation for Filing Sexual Harassment Complaints
Direct or indirect employer retaliation commonly occurs after victims complain about workplace sexual harassment. As such, California has a designated Retaliation Complaint Investigation Unit (“RCI”) responsible for addressing retaliation claims against employees exercising their labor rights. Direct retaliation may include the following:
- Filing or threatening to file complaints or poor reviews against the employee
- Terminating or demoting the complaining employee
- Reducing employee hours, benefits, or pay
- Refusing to consider the employee for promotions
- Transferring the employee without cause or permission
Most major corporations avoid directly retaliating against employees after they meet with HR or file state complaints. As such, indirect retaliation more commonly occurs in San Diego. These unlawful retaliatory behaviors may include:
- Creating increasingly hostile work environments, such as engaging in worse harassment or expressing increased daily frustration and anger at the employee
- Isolating and ostracizing the complaining employee, such as making jokes behind her back
- Spreading rumors about the employee's work performance and reputation
- Blacklisting the employee or making it difficult to obtain another position
- Reprimanding and belittling the employee for bringing the complaint
- Making threats against immigrants, such as implying they will be reported to ICE, have their work visas withdrawn, or fired without consequence
California prohibits these behaviors and allows claimants to demand additional compensation for retaliatory conduct. Victims might even bring forced termination claims if the work environment becomes unbearable, which may provide for back pay and punitive damages. Unfortunately, employers faced with potential harassment claims often become immediately defensive and hostile. They do not want victims filing state complaints or labor litigation and would rather sweep these claims under the rug. Many employers superficially investigate harassment claims without taking meaningful action to prevent further harassment and protect the victim. If you reported workplace harassment to your superiors or HR and have since been retaliated against, contact our San Diego firm immediately to discuss your rights and protections.
San Diego Employer Responsibility for Addressing Workplace Sexual Harassment
While the state recommends speaking with supervisors or human resources about sexual harassment, this isn't necessary to file a complaint. Sometimes doing so is futile, especially in cases of nepotism or quid pro quo harassment. Informing employers of coworker harassment, however, is sometimes necessary to trigger employer liability. Once claimants report workplace harassment, the law requires employers to take immediate action to investigate and remedy the situation. The action may include suspending the alleged offender during the investigation or discussing protective options with the claimant, such as agreed time off or temporary transfers. Employers refusing to take immediate action, especially after sex crimes complaints, become vicariously liable for the conduct. They may also incur additional liability for violating state labor regulations relating to harassment investigations or failing to make reasonable accommodations for workplace sexual assault victims.
Likewise, California prohibits aiding and abetting sexual harassment and mandates official investigation compliance. Aiding harassment includes encouraging others to harass coworkers or convincing employees to inappropriately entertain the boss's friends or important clients. It also includes hiding evidence of harassment, including sweeping complaints under the table and lying about witnessed conduct to protect coworkers. Many coworkers and supervisors engage in blatant sexual harassment because they feel protected by their work friends and corporate connections. With legal assistance, victims of sexual harassment may hold offenders and involved coworkers responsible for violating California labor laws.
Demanding Damages for Sexual Harassment, Retaliation, and Gender Discrimination in San Diego
Victims of workplace harassment have numerous legal options depending on the severity of the conduct and associated damages. Interoffice mediation and minor adjustments, such as changing desks with the claimant’s consent, can resolve certain minor complaints such as unwanted attention due to missed social cues. Attorneys might help claimants resolve these claims by citing corporate policy or holding employers liable for not following appropriate labor and accommodation laws. Alternatively, victims may initiate federal or state-based sexual harassment investigations, file police reports, and seek independent compensation in civil court. Lawyers frequently recommend filing litigation if claimants experienced physical harassment and retaliatory conduct resulting in emotional or financial damages. Recoverable damages for sexual harassment and related claims may include:
- Medical bills and associated mental health services
- Back pay, lost raises, reduced hours, and missed promotions
- Lost benefits and paid leave
- Interest on back pay
- Punitive damages
- Attorneys fees and costs
In cases involving sexual battery, retaliation, and intentional employer cover-ups, claimants might also demand punitive compensation. These additional damages punish the offenders for heinous conduct and may involve double or triple the direct damage awards. Employees who act as whistleblowers on systemic harassment and gender discrimination might also recover specialized compensation under federal law. Discuss your desired outcomes and associated damages with a San Diego sexual harassment attorney.
Dedicated Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Lawyers in San Diego
At our firm, we exclusively serve victims of sexual harassment in Southern California, including traditional harassment claims based on sexual propositions or harassing conduct targeting your appearance, sexuality, and gender identity. We offer free, confidential consultations backed by our no recovery, no fee guarantee. Discuss your workplace concerns with our dedicated sexual harassment lawyers today by calling or scheduling a free consultation.