Sexual harassment and sexual discrimination have been in the news recently. Many women face sexual harassment and sexual discrimination every day in the work place. Sexual harassment and discrimination are very serious societal issues not only for the women involved, but for the ongoing business enterprises who employ sexual harassers or sexual discriminators. Sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are harmful, insulting, and detrimental to the mental and physical health of its recipients.
Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination that is prohibited by Title VII of Civil Rights Act 1964. It is illegal under both Pennsylvania and Federal Law. The term “sexual harassment”, from a legal standpoint, embodies both harassment as well as claims for a hostile work environment. To make out a claim for a hostile work environment, an employee must show that he or she suffered intentional discrimination because of his or her sex; that the discrimination was pervasive and regular; that the discrimination detrimentally affected him or her; that the discrimination would have detrimentally effected a reasonable person of his or her sex in his or her position and liability exists for the employer.
In determining whether a plaintiff sufficiently makes out a claim, the Courts consider the totality of the circumstances including the frequency of the discriminatory conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening and whether it reasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance. Simple teasing, off hand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms of conditions of employment.
In cases where the alleged sexual harassment is done by a co-worker (not a supervisor), liability attaches to the employer only if the employer fails to provide a reasonable avenue for complaint or, alternatively, if the employer knew of or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate remedial action. Reporting of sexual harassment or discrimination is particularly important. Employees should and must report sexual harassment to the employer’s human relations department or to a supervisory employee who is in a position to curtail such conduct or report the offending co-employee to the appropriate authorities within the company.
Likewise, State and Federal Law forbid retaliation against employees who exercised their rights under State and Federal Law. Retaliation is illegal. For a retaliation claim, the employee must show that he or she engaged in conduct protected by Title VII; that the employer took adverse action against him or her and a causal link exists between his or her protective conduct and the employer’s adverse action. In other words, if an employee reports the conduct and then the employer takes action such as termination, suspension, or change of work conditions, the employee must show the link between his or her protective conduct and the suspension, termination or whatever adverse employer actions are taken. Causation is a hotly contested issue in these types of cases. The mere fact that an adverse employment action occurs is in and of itself insufficient to satisfy the employee’s burden of demonstrating the link between the two events.
The consult of an attorney is of utmost importance when an employee is subject to sexual harassment or sexual discrimination. The employee needs to know the appropriate actions to take to preserve their rights as well as to be safe and protected in the workplace. Often times, employees are concerned with their job position or getting a reputation as a “trouble maker”. The employee may feel that her exercise of her rights may adversely affect her upward mobility within the company. The reporting deterrent culture must change, but change only happens through action.
Sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are underreported in the United States. It is only through the concerted continuing efforts of employees making appropriate reports that such conduct will be deterred by the employer. The employer cares about the bottom line. The employer’s conduct will change if claims are made and if affects the bottom line.
The Patberg Law Firm provides free initial consultations regarding sexual harassment and sexual discrimination claims and will provide guidance as to appropriately handle the matter. The employer need not know that the employee has consulted an attorney. It is important that employees report this conduct. It is important that all employees feel safe and protected in their work place environment. If you, family member, or friend have been subject to work place sexual harassment or sexual discrimination contact attorney Rolf Patberg at The Patberg Law Firm at 412-232-3500 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org