When Should You Talk to a Sexual Harassment Lawyer?

Sexual harassment is hard to explain but easier to recognize when it happens to you. In California, the law recognizes two kinds of workplace sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile work environment. If you experience either type, you should speak with a sexual harassment attorney.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” The phrase encapsulates the concept of an exchange. In the sexual harassment arena, it refers to a situation where you are asked to exchange sexual favors for something valuable in the workplace – being hired, continued employment, promotions, raises, or other benefits. The harassment can also consist of threats to withhold employment, promotions, etc. It can appear as an offer or a threat. Quid pro quo is such a serious violation of legal standards that a single incident can lead to liability.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when the offensive sexually tinged behavior is so pervasive or severe that it alters the conditions of employment, unreasonably interferes with the ability to do the job, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. The conduct does not have to be aimed at you but must be such that a reasonable person would find it offensive, hostile, or abusive (objective component). At the same time, the conduct must have caused the victim some form of actual emotional distress, such as affecting the person’s ability to perform the job, disturbing their mental state, or interfering with their well-being (subjective component).

Courts will examine three factors to determine whether the conduct was sufficiently hostile, offensive, or abusive as to constitute harassment: 

  • How severe was the conduct
  • How often did the conduct occur
  • Facts and circumstances surrounding the conduct

In other words, a hostile work environment sexual harassment case is highly fact-specific.

Federal versus California Law

California law is generally more favorable to the victim of sexual harassment than federal law. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), all employees of any private, state, and local employer is protected against sexual harassment. Federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) only applies to employers with more than 14 employees.

Conduct that Creates a Hostile Environment

Any of the following conduct can be the basis of a hostile environment case, so long as the conduct was sufficiently hostile, intimidating, or offensive as to create a hostile environment:

  • Derogatory or sexual comments, slurs, epithets, or jokes;
  • Unwanted touching, such as back rubs, pats on the butt, pinching, or “accidental” brushes against your body;
  • Unwanted sexual propositions or even repeated requests for a date can constitute harassment
  • Discussion of sexual acts;
  • Leering or rude gestures;
  • Someone displaying or “giving” to you sexually suggestive objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters;
  • Graphic comments, sexually degrading words, sexually suggestive or obscene messages or invitations;
  • Someone impeding or blocking your movements

Contact a Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today

If you have been the frequent target of such conduct or been present while someone else is the repeated victim, you should consider contacting an experienced sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible. You do not have to suffer in silence, and your employer should appreciate the opportunity to fix its human resources problem before it worsens.

Posted in