Sexual Harassment Can Be Insidious
Your boss or co-worker is a creep. Every day, the sexual harassment you experience makes it harder for you to do your job. You might even skip work or call out sick just to avoid the harassment. As a result, your job performance begins to suffer. I understand how you feel. No one deserves to work in a sexually hostile environment.
Instead, you have the right to work in a safe, professional environment without being harassed or degraded because of your sex. If you believe that you are suffering from sexual harassment at work, contact my firm, Mansour Law, LLC, online or call 610-936-6863 for a free consultation. I am William P. Mansour, and my team and I are ready to help.
What Is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment in the workplace is any unwelcome, offensive or discriminatory conduct based on an employee’s sex. For example, the following conduct can be considered sexual harassment:
- Sexual advances or threats
- Unwanted or inappropriate touching
- Sexually themed pictures or jokes
- Sexual gestures
- Gender stereotypes about looks, fashion or attitude
- Teasing or bullying
- Requests for sexual favors
Surprisingly, there is no law prohibiting “sexual harassment” in the workplace. Instead, the law prohibits “discrimination based on sex.” The U.S. Supreme Court has held that this includes when your work environment has become hostile because of your sex.
This can be caused by sexual harassment. Therefore, “sexual harassment” claims are often called “hostile work environment” claims. Either way, these claims are really sex discrimination claims.
Sexual harassment is any harassment that is based on an employee’s sex. In other words, harassment does not need to be based on sexual desire or attraction. Therefore, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that sexual harassment includes harassment by employees of the same sex. Still, you must prove that the harassment was based on your sex. Typically, to prove harassment was based on sex, you must show that either: (1) the harassment involved sex-specific language or conduct (e.g., sexual advances or sex-based profanity) or (2) the harasser treated you worse than employees of the opposite sex.
To be illegal, sexual harassment must be severe or pervasive. In other words, it must be extreme or happen frequently. The harassment must be frequent enough to change the conditions of your employment. Isolated incidents of harassment are not illegal unless they are clearly severe. Recently, for example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a supervisor’s single use of the “N-word” in front of African American employees was severe enough to bring a claim for racial harassment. The logic for this decision applies equally to sexual harassment claims. A single, severe act of sexual harassment may be enough to violate the law. A sexual harassment lawyer will be able to determine whether the harassment was severe or frequent enough to be illegal.
What Laws Prohibit Workplace Sexual Harassment?
In Pennsylvania, sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by at least two laws: a federal law, called Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), and a state law, called the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Title VII is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The PHRA is enforced by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Some cities and towns, like Philadelphia and Allentown, have their own laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace.
All these laws prohibit the same kind of harassing workplace conduct. The biggest difference between the laws is which employers they apply to. Title VII applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least 15 employees. The PHRA applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least four employees. Local laws usually apply to employers with any number of employees within the town or city. Chances are, your employer is covered by one of these laws. I will be able to determine which laws apply to your case.
How Often Does Sexual Harassment Occur In The Workplace?
It’s hard to say how often sexual harassment occurs in the workplace because not all harassment is formally reported. However, in 2019, the EEOC received 12,739 complaints alleging sex-based or sexual harassment. The PHRC received 446 complaints of sexual harassment in 2019. Also in 2019, employers paid out a record $68.2 million to those alleging sexual harassment violations through the EEOC. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is still common in the workplace.
Can You Sue Your Employer For Sexual Harassment?
Title VII and the PHRA both require sexual harassment victims to file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC before going to court. This is called “exhausting administrative remedies.” In Pennsylvania, if you file a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC, then it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC.
Under Title VII, you must give the EEOC at least 180 days to investigate your complaint. If the EEOC has not completed its investigation within that time, you may request a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This letter from the EEOC gives you the right to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer in court. Once you receive this letter, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days. If you don’t, you will lose your claim forever.
Filing a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC or PHRC can be a confusing process. To make sure that your sexual harassment complaint is properly filed, it is important to consult a seasoned sexual harassment lawyer like me, attorney Bill Mansour.
Are There Deadlines For Filing A Complaint With The EEOC Or PHRC?
Yes. To protect your sexual harassment claims under Title VII and the PHRA, you must file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC within 180 days of the last act of harassment. If you file your sexual harassment claim with the EEOC, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC.
If you miss the 180-day deadline, you can still protect your federal sexual harassment under Title VII. To do so, you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of the last act of harassment. However, you will lose your PHRA claim.
If you do not file your complaints by these deadlines, then you may lose your claims forever. That’s why it’s important to have an attorney handle the process for you. An experienced sexual harassment attorney will make sure that you meet all deadlines and that your complaint is complete.
What Should You Do If You’re Being Sexually Harassed At Work?
Here are five things you must do if you are being sexually harassed at work:
Step #1: Tell the harasser to stop.
To be illegal, sexual harassment must be unwelcome or offensive. In other words, it’s not “harassment” if it doesn’t bother you. Therefore, to show that the harassment bothers you and is unwelcome, clearly tell the harasser to stop. If you can tell the harasser to stop in writing, that’s even better. For example, if you have the harasser’s cellphone number or email address, you can send them a text or email. If you can’t tell the harasser to stop in writing, then tell them verbally. However, make sure you record the date, time and place where you verbally told the harasser to stop. In any event, always make it clear to the harasser that their conduct is unwelcome and unacceptable.
Step #2: Report the harassment in writing.
In most cases, your employer violates the law only when they know or should know that you are being sexually harassed and fails to stop it. Your employer cannot be held liable for harassment that they do not know about. Therefore, in almost all cases, the law requires you to report the harassment to your employer.
In many cases, your employee handbook will tell you what steps to take if you are being sexually harassed at work. Many times, the employee handbook will tell you to report the harassment to your supervisor. However, if your supervisor is the harasser, you should report it to their supervisor directly. If that isn’t possible, report the harassment to a human resources official. Always follow the procedure in your employee handbook as closely as possible.
If you never received an employee handbook, ask a human resources official how to file a sexual harassment report. If your company is very small, make the report to one of the owners or managers. In many small companies, owners also manage the business. In the case where a small business owner is the harasser, contact us or the PHRC or EEOC directly.
Regardless of to whom you report, always report the harassment in writing. If you can, report it in writing the first time. If you made a verbal report first, follow up with a written report as soon as possible. This cannot be stressed enough. It is far easier to prove that your employer had notice of the harassment if you report it in writing.
Also, make sure to include all relevant information in your report. For example, your report should include at least the following:
- The name(s) of the harasser(s)
- The date(s) and location(s) of the harassment
- The names of any witnesses
Step #3: Keep track of all harassing conduct.
As stated above, sexual harassment is illegal only if it’s severe or pervasive. That means that the sexual harassment must be extreme or frequent. If you are claiming one or two instances of severely harassing conduct, you should write down the dates, times and locations of the harassment. You should also take note of who was present. You should do the same thing to keep track of harassment that is less severe but happens more often. Save every harassing text message, photo and/or voicemail. Don’t delete anything. The more incidents of harassment you are able to prove, the more likely you will win your case. Keeping a journal or diary of the harassing conduct will help you do this.
Step #4: Cooperate with human resources.
As stated above, sexual harassment is illegal only if it’s severe or pervasive. That means that the sexual harassment must be extreme or frequent. If you are claiming one or two instances of severely harassing conduct, you should write down the dates, times and locations of the harassment. You should also take note of who was present. You should do the same thing to keep track of harassment that is less severe but happens more often. Save every harassing text message, photo or voicemail. Again, don’t delete anything. The more incidents of harassment you are able to prove, the more likely you will win your case. Keeping a journal or diary of the harassing conduct will help you do this.
Step #5: Seek help.
Sexual harassment at work can be traumatizing. It can also increase your risk for mental or emotional illnesses, such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Low self-esteem and self-confidence
- Poor psychological well-being
If you are feeling anxious or depressed because of sexual harassment at work, contact a therapist or professional counselor immediately. In addition, there are numerous Pennsylvania groups and organizations ready to help victims of sexual harassment. For instance, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape offers various forms of assistance to victims of workplace sexual harassment. The YWCA also has programs that provide comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. More information on those programs can be found there. The YWCA also has a 24-hour crisis hotline you can call as well.
What Kinds Of Damages Can Be Recovered From A Sexual Harassment Claim?
Generally, there are three types of damages you can recover for your sexual harassment claim:
- Economic damages (e.g., past and future lost wages)
- Compensatory damages (e.g., emotional distress and humiliation)
- Punitive damages (intended to punish the employer for intentional misconduct)
Title VII and the PHRA also place limits on the kinds and amounts of damages you can recover if you are sexually harassed at work. Under Title VII, for example, there is no cap on economic damages. However, the combined amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can recover is limited based on the size of your employer:
- For employers with 15 to 100 employees, the combined limit is $50,000.
- For employers with 101 to 200 employees, the combined limit is $100,000.
- For employers with 201 to 500 employees, the combined limit is $200,000.
- For employers with more than 500 employees, the combined limit is $300,000.
Like Title VII, the PHRA does not limit economic damages. Unlike Title VII, however, the PHRA does not limit your compensatory damages and does not allow punitive damages.
The different types of damages available to you under Title VII and the PHRA can be confusing. That is why you should retain an experienced sexual harassment lawyer to help you recover the full extent of your damages.
How Long Will It Take To Resolve A Sexual Harassment Case?
Generally, sexual harassment cases resolve within two years. Some cases may resolve in as little as six months while others may take several years. Your specific case, however, may take more or less time. This will depend on several factors, including:
- The nature and complexity of your case
- The number of people you sue
- The number of witnesses
- Whether your employer has insurance to cover the sexual harassment claim
- The kinds and amounts of damages you are claiming
- The court where you file your lawsuit
- The willingness of your employer to settle your case
If you handle your sexual harassment case on your own, it can take a lot longer to resolve. This can cause a lot of uncertainty, stress and wasted time. In order to make sure that your case is moving toward resolution, it is necessary to have an experienced Pennsylvania sexual harassment lawyer like me by your side. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, contact my firm online or call 610-936-6863 for a free consultation. My team and I are ready to help.