If you’re facing unwanted advances, comments, or other inappropriate sexual behaviour by your boss or co-worker at work — and it’s making you uncomfortable or interfering with your work, it’s time to consult with a Bay Area sexual harassment attorney. Too frequently, victims of sexual harassment stay silent — and lose their right to compensation and other damages. At the Costanzo Law Firm we’re here to help.
Our attorneys offer legal representation that is equally compassionate and aggressive. We work alongside our clients, empowering them throughout the complaint and litigation processes. At the same time, we vigorously fight for their legal rights, compiling evidence, building legal arguments, and negotiating with the employer and its insurance companies.
What Is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Under California and federal law, harassment of any male or female in the workplace or in a professional or social setting by another male or female is illegal. The behavior in question usually involves lewd or obscene comments, and unwanted sexual advances, or inappropriate acts. Sexual harassment by a co-worker, boss, supervisor, manager, or others at work, school, college is still all too common. For example, such behavior may include the following:
- unwelcome sexual advances,
- unwanted touching,
- hugs too tight or too long,
- neck rubs,
- inappropriate compliments or gifts,
- inappropriate texts or emails,
- demands for sexual favors,
- verbal or physical harassment that is based on a person’s sex.
This definition can be further defined as Quid Pro Quo or Hostile Work Environment. The difference between the two is striking, but one is no more or less important than the other. It is common to see people roll their eyes, scoff, or make excuses when they hear about alleged harassment in the workplace. As a result, its all too common that the victim stays quiet. Knowing your rights will help you navigate what could be a very difficult and uncomfortable situation.
What’s the Difference Between Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment?
The literal translation of quid pro quo is “something for something,” or “this for that.” This type of harassment requires someone in a position of power to offer you something in return for a sexual favor of their choosing.
In short, quid pro quo sexual harassment is when an employer or person of power makes employment, benefits or other perks contingent upon getting sexual favors in return. It’s a supervisor suggesting you should go on a date with him if you want to him to pick you for the next big project.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment is when other employees — either above you or not — make uncomfortable or sexual comments, jokes or perform actions that create an intimidating and hostile environment.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment is more clear cut and probably more familiar to most persons. It’s the kind that is seen in pop culture, splashed across television screens and nestled into iconic cinematic scenes. It is also the most widely recognized type of sexual harassment.
What Is It?
This type of harassment entails a harasser that is a superior—whether it’s a supervisor, manager, professor, or any other person of power—taking advantage of their power over an individual and demanding sexual favors for job benefit. For instance, a manager might offer an employee a highly-prized project or deal which is contingent upon some kind of sexual favor in return. Even if the manager doesn’t lay out those terms explicitly, they can sometimes make it clear that the employee’s success and progress depends upon their compliance.
People in power are able to offer raises, benefits, special deals, recommendations, and certain shifts — so it can be easier for them to get away with this behavior by offering these incentives. They can threaten a demotion, or the firing of the employee. They can assign them grueling assignments or bad shifts or threaten bad performance reviews.
What Do You Need to Establish a Case?
When it comes to quid pro quo sexual harassment, all it takes is one instance of an inappropriate sexual nature related to job benefit. One offer. One question. One threat. This act in and of itself is illegal and you can and should report it immediately. And if the threat is reported and nothing happens, the behavior continues, or the employee loses their standing, the employer itself can be seen as liable.
Compensation for this harassment includes wages, benefits, or employment lost due to the harassment, damages for emotional distress, and even punitive damages if the harassment was severe and physical.
Hostile Work Environment
Hostile environment harassment is more of a grey area in the realm of workplace harassment, but it can be just as detrimental for its victims.
What Is It?
A hostile environment in the workplace is characterized by severe or pervasive, distracting behavior that is frequent and unwanted which affects employment and performance. It includes recurring unwanted and inappropriate sexual comments, sexual advances, quid pro quo-like requests and more based on sex and gender. It’s important to know that the sexual comments and advances don’t necessarily have to be about you.
What makes a hostile working environment is behavior that makes people feel uncomfortable and are of a sexual nature. This can include lewd jokes or obscene material being brought into the office, asking repeatedly for dates, and getting in the way physically of others on purpose.
What Do You Need to Establish a Case?
However, to establish a case for hostile work environment sexual harassment, the actions need to be consistent or pervasive. It cannot be just one isolated incident of unwanted or uncomfortable behavior.
For example, consistent and unwelcome sexual jokes that are constantly being made around an employee, but not directed at them, could still be harassment. As could a secret affair between a supervisor and a subordinate that leads to perceived advantages for said employee.
Remember, there is nothing demeaning or shameful about filing a sexual harassment claim or taking the matter up with your supervisors or HR department. It is part of your civil rights to be treated equally and fairly in the workplace, without discrimination.
Hostile work environment is the more pervasive type of workplace sexual harassment. Unwanted touching, jokes, comments, and other factors result in a working environment that is intimidating, offensive, or hostile. Typically, a hostile work environment requires more than one offensive act (unless the behavior is very egregious). Instead, you must show a pattern of offensive, harmful behaviors that your employer did not stop.
Additionally, you must experience an adverse employment action because of the sexual harassment.
While women are most commonly the victims, all genders can experience — and perpetrate — sexual harassment. If you believe you were the victim of workplace sexual harassment, contact a sexual harassment attorney at Costanzo Law Firm, APC. We can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities. However, do not delay — sexual harassment claims have strict filing deadlines.
What to Do if You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work?
If you witness or experience sexual harassment, it’s important to document the behavior and file a complaint (when possible) with your employer. This will do several important things:
- It will serve as evidence in a case against your employer.
- In many hostile work environment cases, you must show that your employer was aware of the offensive behavior and did not protect you from the harassment. If you do not file a complaint with Human Resources, you might lose your right to compensation.
If Your Boss Is the Harasser and No HR
This situation creates a particularly vulnerable work place environment. You should reach out to an attorney right away to help you make a complaint to the owner, founder, Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, or other persons with decision making power.
Keep a Paper Trail
Additionally, keep any emails, messages, or other documentation relating to the harassment and your adverse employment action. This might include:
- Harassing messages (texts or emails) from the perpetrator
- Responses to your complaints from management or HR
- Discussions between you and your colleagues about the perpetrator’s inappropriate behavior
- Pictures or videos documenting inappropriate behavior or a hostile work environment
- Check stubs and tax documents that explain your lost income
- Bills related to your harassment and adverse employment action (such as job search and counseling expenses)
Again, these screenshots, documents, voice messages, and pictures might serve as important evidence in either an administrative complaint or lawsuit.
Finally, it’s important that you act quickly. In California, the first step to a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit is filing an administrative complaint with either the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must make a DFEH complaint within one year of the last harassing incident. You must typically file EEOC complaints within 300 days. If you do not file a complaint within these deadlines, you might lose your right to fair compensation. If you’re unsure where to file your complaint, contact a Bay Area sexual harassment attorney immediately.
An experienced Attorney can help you through this process.
Once you file an administrative complaint, the agency (either DFEH or the EEOC) will investigate your claim. You also might participate in mediation or other dispute resolution processes. Your sexual harassment attorney should help you navigate these processes and advocate on your behalf. Occasionally, the EEOC and DFEH will decide to pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. However, due to funding constraints, they typically issue a “right to sue letter,” which allows you to file your own lawsuit against your employer or the harassing supervisor.
If you get a right to sue letter, don’t assume that you’ll lose a sexual harassment lawsuit. DFEH and the EEOC simply cannot file lawsuits in every sexual harassment case they review. At the Costanzo Law Firm we’ve seen many strong cases that they opted not to pursue. Contact us for a confidential evaluation and more information.
Do I Need a Bay Area Sexual Harassment Attorney?
Workplace sexual harassment claims are emotionally difficult and legally complicated. Without the support and guidance of a sexual harassment attorney, you might make costly mistakes that weaken your claim.
At the Costanzo Law Firm, we offer legal representation that is equally compassionate and aggressive. We work alongside our clients, empowering them throughout the complaint and litigation processes. At the same time, we vigorously fight for their legal rights. We will compile evidence, build legal arguments, and negotiate with the employer and its insurance companies.
Consult With a Sexual Harassment Attorney
Without a sexual harassment attorney at your side, a workplace harassment complaint can feel isolating and overwhelming. At the Costanzo Law Firm we use over 25 years of experience in state and federal courts to our clients’ advantage. We specialize in all aspects of employment law, including sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination.
We combine trial-tested strategies, compassionate advice, and aggressive representation. If you would like to learn more about your legal rights and our approach to sexual harassment litigation and dispute resolution, contact us today.