The In’s & Out’s Of Sexual Harassment
Of all workplace harassment, sexual harassment seems to be the most known. This could be due to the fact that sexual harassment occurs frequently or that the media often provides a significant amount of coverage to these types of cases. During sexual harassment cases, details often come out that the harasser would rather keep quiet.
Obviously, in an ideal world, sexual harassment would not happen. Unfortunately, that is oftentimes not the case. In times like these, an experienced sexual harassment lawyer is needed. If you have experienced or are currently experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, you know how embarrassing sexual harassment can be. It can make you feel isolated, and you don’t know where to turn. You may have reported the behavior to your supervisor or human resources, but you feel like the company “brushed off your complaint” and nothing was done. Because you are experiencing or have experienced sexual harassment, you have likely also done some online research to help you understand the law and your rights. While this type of information can be helpful, online resources are not always specific to Missouri law. Therefore, if you believe that you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, call our office today. Our experienced sexual harassment attorneys will listen to your situation and explain the law to you.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is one of the many forms of workplace discrimination made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Missouri’s equivalent to Title VII, the Missouri Human Rights Act. According to the law, sexual harassment in the workplace occurs when any employee (or even a customer) makes unwanted sexual advances towards any other employee. Things like unwanted verbal conduct of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors and, of course, unwanted sexual physical contact are all considered sexual harassment under both Missouri and federal law
Sexual harassment becomes illegal when the sexual conduct begins to interfere with performance in the workplace or when the conduct occurs on numerous occasions. If you refuse sexual advances and face retaliation such as a demotion, schedule change, termination, disciplinary action, etc., you would also have a separate claim for retaliation based on the sexual harassment you are experiencing.
Suffice to say, sexual harassment law can be tricky. There are complicated deadlines that must be strictly followed, and you must file your claim correctly or risk losing your rights forever. If you believe you may have a case, you should contact our office immediately.
The Two Types of Sexual Harassment
There are a couple different types of sexual harassment. First, there is quid pro quo sexual harassment, and there is hostile work environment sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee is forced to submit to any sexual demands as part of his or her employment. Often, the harasser issues an implied threat that, if you do not engage in the requested sexual activity, you will lose your job or suffer some other form of adverse employment action.
On the other hand, a hostile work environment claim occurs when the harassment of an employee, based on his or her gender, is both severe and pervasive. That is, the behavior must be offensive to both you and an ordinary person, and it must occur on multiple occasions. Physical contact or verbal attacks can both be considered part of this form of harassment. When we say that the behavior must be “offensive for an ordinary person,” what we mean is that the law takes into account that certain people are unreasonably sensitive to certain behavior. The law requires that a plaintiff’s interpretation of the sexual behavior be reasonable and, thus, if a plaintiff is simply extra sensitive, he or she would not be entitled to recovery for a hostile work environment.
Who Is Protected From Sexual Harassment?
Almost everybody is protected from sexual harassment in the workplace. Both male and female employees are protected from unlawful sexual advances under both Missouri and federal law. Any company with over 15 employees is subjected to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Smaller companies with six or more employees are subjected to the Missouri Human Rights Act which offers similar and, oftentimes, more protections than Title VII.
One detail of note—Both Missouri and federal law protect against opposite sex and same sex harassment with one important caveat. Under Missouri law, sexual harassment only exists if the harasser sexually harasses only one gender. That is, if your male boss sexually harasses both men and women, believe it or not, Missouri law would not provide any protection. However, even in this type of situation, if you report the sexual harassment to a supervisor or human resources, and the company takes any adverse employment action against you, you are still entitled to pursue a claim for retaliation. Additionally, if the harasser is one of your supervisors at your job and retaliates against you, you have a claim under Missouri law for retaliation even if you didn’t report the conduct to any other supervisor or human resources.
Thus, even if you aren’t sure if you are protected by the law, contact us immediately. Our experienced sexual harassment attorneys will be able to assist you in determining if you might have a case.
Hostile Work Environments
In your online research, you may have come across many failed hostile work environment cases. While there are a number of reasons these cases may have failed, one of the most common reasons is an employee’s failure to report the conduct to higher ups or the company’s human resources department. Under Missouri law, if your supervisor (or any person above you in your chain of command) creates a hostile work environment, the company is automatically liable, even if other members of the company’s management team were unaware that the sexual harassment was taking place. However, as is oftentimes the case, if one of your co-workers (who is not one of your supervisors) is sexually harassing you, it is imperative that you report the conduct (in writing) to your supervisor and/or to human resources.
While there is no requirement under either federal or Missouri law that your complaint be in writing, our firm’s experience has been that “oral complaints” are oftentimes disputed by the company in litigation. That is, they frequently deny that such complaints were made. To ensure that your complaint is properly documents, it is imperative that you file your complaint in writing, even if the complaint is an email to human resources or a higher level supervisor. While we all would like to assume that people are honest, that is not always the case. Sadly, we oftentimes see companies in litigation “lose documentation” or simply claim that the written complaint was never sent.
To protect yourself, regardless of company policy to the contrary, save copies of all evidence you think may be helpful in prosecuting your sexual harassment claim. This would include written complaints, emails, internal memorandums, performance reviews, performance improvement plans, etc. Be aware that, under Missouri law, you are entitled to record conversations without the consent of the other party. Thus, if you believe you are being sexually harassed, use a recording device or an app (many are free) on your cell phone to record any encounters with the harasser and/or any meetings with management. In our experience, these recording can frequently be the difference in winning or losing a case. Failure to do so could compromise your claim in court and, an otherwise great case, may fail.
If you believe you are currently being sexually harassed, our firm may be able to assist you in determining the appropriate complaint to file at your company. Contacting an experienced sexual harassment attorney early can be critical to ensuring that you have a viable case down the road. We will be able to help you navigate complicated company policies for reporting harassment and assist you in crafting a written complaint that will place the company on proper legal notice of the unlawful behavior you are experiencing.
Although you may be tempted to ignore the situation in hopes that “it will get better on its own,” our experience has been that, in most instances, it will not. Think about it like this. As uncomfortable as filing a sexual harassment complaint may be, your sexually charged work environment is even more uncomfortable. Also, just like you have been afraid to speak out, your co-workers may also be experiencing similar sexual harassment. By taking a stand, you may empower your fellow co-workers to stand up next to you. By filing a complaint, you may not only be helping to improve your work environment, you may also be helping others to do the same. More importantly, as stated above, filing a complaint may be a necessary requirement for winning your case in litigation.
If you are in need of a sexual harassment lawyer in Missouri, we hope you will contact us. We have attorneys that focus their law practice on these types of cases, and they will know how best to help you. There is nothing more comforting than knowing that, whatever you are facing in the workplace, you have an experienced employment attorney standing right next to you.