Sexual Harassment

5 Things People Often Don’t Know About Sexual Harassment Cases

Like many topics in employment law, there’s a lot of nuance with regard to sexual harassment at work. While this is an often-discussed topic – especially in light of the #MeToo movement – and activists have done much to raise awareness, there are many things about sexual harassment that a lot of people don’t know.

Some of those lesser-known facts can make a difference in whether or not a new claim is filed and another step toward seeking justice is made. It’s in this spirit that we wish to present five things that people don’t often know about sexual harassment cases.

If you wish to speak with an attorney about a potential sexual harassment claim – especially after reading this list – don’t hesitate to contact our lawyers at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for a free consultation.

1. The Incident You Report Doesn’t Have To Involve You

While many sexual harassment lawsuits center on claims the plaintiff makes about what happened to her or himself, it doesn’t necessarily have to work like that. There are a number of reasons why people who are targeted for sexual harassment won’t take action – and a lot of it comes down to the fear of what can happen to them if they do.

The individual directly experiencing the harassment doesn’t need to be the person who reports it to management or, in some cases, even files a lawsuit. This is because sexual harassment is often so frequent or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment – and the thing about such an environment is that it can create a threatening or distracting atmosphere that all employees must live within.

This is, in essence, why you can file a sexual harassment claim even when you’re not the targeted individual. Bear in mind this doesn’t mean you would file on behalf of that person. Whether or not they want to pursue their own case is entirely up to them.

2. Harassment Doesn’t Have To Be Verbal or Physical

Sexual harassment is all about the things people can do or say to you or someone else – right? Most cases involve these two elements of abuse, but there’s a third option most people don’t consider because it can hide in plain sight, so to speak.

Think about the trope of the office swimsuit calendar. This relic from a bygone era is indicative of sexual harassment that passively impacts employees. When posters, calendars, mousepads, screensavers, desktop backgrounds, and other decorative items around the office feature sexual or sexualized imagery of any body – male or female – they can create a hostile work environment that makes it difficult or impossible for certain employees to feel safe or focused enough to do their work.

It’s worth noting here that passive sexual harassment isn’t limited to imagery. The same can be true for quotes or sayings that are sexually offensive or discriminatory. When these are printed and posted on surfaces or included in email signatures, these too can create a hostile work environment.

3. Your Employer Can’t Retaliate Even If Your Claim Isn’t Proven

It is illegal under any circumstance for your employer to retaliate against you with regard to your sexual harassment report, claim, or lawsuit. Even if you lost the lawsuit, your employer is prohibited from terminating or otherwise enacting punishment against you for costing them time and money in court.

If employers could retaliate against employees who could not legally prove that sexual harassment occurred, it might discourage other employees from reporting their experiences in the future.

4. Even If You Quit Your Job, You Can Still Sue

An important myth we wish to dispel is that you can’t sue your former employer for sexual harassment if you voluntarily quit your job. Many people believe this, and it has two unfortunate outcomes: It leaves people feeling like they must stay with employers that abuse them and it leaves employees who quit feeling like they lost their chance to fight back.

Neither of these is true. If you experienced sexual harassment at work in California, you have one year from the date of the last incident to file a claim and pursue legal action.

This time limit is known as the statute of limitations, and it’s crucial to know and understand for any employment law matter. Depending upon the type of claim you have, the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit may be different than other kinds of claims.

5. Sexual Harassment Is a Form of Gender Discrimination

People might think about sexual harassment and gender discrimination as two things that are sort of related but ultimately deal with separate matters.

The truth of the matter, however, that sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination and prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We may attribute certain activities or behaviors under the umbrella of sexual harassment, but that itself falls under the umbrella of gender discrimination.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

If you were sexually harassed at work, turn to the employment law attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for assistance. Our firm is dedicated to helping clients fight for what they deserve after they have experienced sexual misconduct and abuse in the workplace.

We can help you fight for fair and just compensation that can help you move forward with your life after enduring sexual harassment. If you want to learn more about what we can do for you, please reach out to us today and request a complimentary initial consultation with our attorneys.

Get in touch with us by filling out our online contact form or by calling (619) 342-8000. Remember to ask about your FREE initial consultation with our attorneys.

Are Employers Liable For Sexual Harassment Caused By Clients & Customers?

When people think about sexual harassment at work, they typically imagine it within the confines of people employed by the same company. While this is not a misconception about the dynamics of most cases of sexual harassment at work, it’s an incomplete picture.

Employees can and do experience sexual misconduct and abuse from their employer’s customers and clients. Known as third-party sexual harassment, this phenomenon isn’t often spoken about during the same breath as what occurs between coworkers or employees and their supervisors. While that may be the case, the employer may be no less liable for failing to take action if an employee reports harassment coming from someone with whom the employer does business.

As with sexual harassment occurring among those employed by the same company, instances involving third parties must be so severe or pervasive enough that a hostile work environment is created. This can easily be the case if a client who frequently visits the company propositions a receptionist or even just once inappropriately touches the project manager assigned to their account.

When Does an Employer’s Liability Begin?

While third-party sexual harassment is different because of the people involved and the employer’s level of authority (or lack thereof) over them – and those are important differences – it’s not much different otherwise.

When employees experience sexual misconduct or abuse from their employer’s customers or clients, they must report the activity so that the employer has a chance to resolve the issue. It’s only when the employer becomes aware of the problem that they assume liability to address and correct it.

Employees may fear that reporting someone with whom their employer does business will affect their employment, but under no circumstances can an employer legally retaliate against the employee for filing a sexual harassment claim – even if it’s against someone who represents a revenue stream to the company.

Just as with internal cases of sexual harassment, the employer must elevate the sexual harassment report above all other business priorities and take action to correct the issue.

In some cases, such corrective action may include:

  • Directly addressing the matter with the client by making it clear that the behavior is inappropriate and won’t be tolerated
  • Changing the location of the employee’s workstation to limit interaction with the client
  • Placing another employee on the client’s account
  • Asking the client to send over a new representative
  • Dropping the client

These are merely a few of the possible ways that an employer can and should intervene to protect their employee – and again, doing so ought to be the employer’s priority.

Employers Must Avoid Unintentional Punishment For Reporting

While employers are prohibited by law from overtly retaliating against employees who report sexual harassment, they must also take care to ensure that any corrective actions they pursue to address the misconduct don’t unintentionally punish the employee.

Such can be the case when an employer immediately decides to remove an employee earning a commission from a high-performing account without consulting with the employee. Sending the employee elsewhere in the company where he or she would be making less of a commission than before could be viewed as retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.

Under circumstances such as this, an employer wouldn’t be wrong to open a discussion with the employee about how the problem can be agreeably mitigated without adversely impacting the employee. Regardless, employees should not find themselves in the place of making concessions to avoid being mistreated by their employer’s customers or clients – if the problem absolutely cannot be otherwise mitigated, the employer may be left with no option but to drop the client.

Contact Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for Assistance

At Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, we proudly represent employees who need to hold their employers accountable for violations of their rights at work. Sexual harassment is a key issue in employment law, and our attorneys frequently assist clients who have experienced it and decide to pursue fair and just compensation from their employers.

Get in touch with us today to schedule a free initial consultation with someone who can help. Call (619) 342-8000 or fill out our online contact form to reach someone at our firm.

Employee Victims of Unlawful Conduct Now Have 3 Years To Pursue Legal Action

Prior to January 1, 2020, employees alleging harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other claims under California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (“FEHA”) had only one year from the most recent date of unlawful conduct (e.g., sexual harassment, discipline, demotion, refused promotion, termination) to file an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). This requirement was an absolute, nonnegotiable prerequisite to filing a civil lawsuit for FEHA claims. Unless extended by very limited circumstances, the employee lost the right to sue their employer and to seek damages for these claims if he or she missed the one-year deadline. But after almost 60 years in effect, the one-year statute of limitation has finally been extended. Below, we cover what has changed and what the changes mean for employees who have suffered unlawful conduct.

New Bill Extends Ability To Pursue Legal Action

Recognizing a host of reasons why employee victims cannot always meet the strict one-year deadline – including needing time to fully grasp what happened to them before feeling comfortable to come forward, overcoming fears of retaliation, and being unaware of their rights – California Governor Gavin Newson signed Assembly Bill (AB) 9, known as the Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension (SHARE) Act. Beginning on January 1, 2020, employees now have a total of three years from the most recent date of unlawful conduct to file their DFEH complaint. As before, once the employee satisfies this administrative prerequisite, they have the option of having the DFEH investigate their complaint and receiving a “Right to Sue” at the conclusion of the investigation or receiving an immediate Right to Sue. In either event, the employee still has only one additional year from date of the Right to Sue Notice to file their FEHA claims in court.

Importantly, the SHARE Act explicitly does not revive claims that already lapsed under the prior one-year rule (essentially, any unfiled claims that arose before January 1, 2019). The Act did not, however, specifically address which limitation period applies to claims that occurred between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, though the analysis by the Senate Judiciary Committee suggests that the statute of limitation for those claims will expire in 2022 instead of 2020. And going forward, all employee victims will get the benefit of the three-year expansion.

How the Extension Benefits Employees

It is difficult to understate the importance of this change and how much it will help victims of unlawful conduct in the workplace. Previously, many employees were limited in their ability to recover damages due to the one-year deadline. There are many scenarios where someone may not be prepared to pursue legal action within that brief time frame. In instances of sexual harassment or assault, it can take many months or even years to process the inappropriate actions. If one is still employed by a company, it can easy to become intimidated by the specter of retaliatory actions. You might also attempt to pursue a matter internally through a company’s HR department, an often labyrinthine process that results in your very real injuries being lost in an endless bureaucracy.

HR Departments tend to protect the company, not you, and many employees do not realize the extent of their legal options when they have been measurably injured by unlawful employer conduct. In some situations, individuals may not even realize that an employer was behaving unlawfully. While one could previously pursue legal action against employers from one year following the discovery of unlawful conduct, proving the point discovery represents another legal hurdle for employees to overcome.

The new three-year timeline gives many wronged employees the ability to evaluate the full extent of their options and come to a decision on whether they wish to pursue formal legal action.  If you believe you have been the victim of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, and the most recent incident of unlawful conduct occurred on or after January 1, 2019, you may be able to hold your employer legally accountable. Our employment attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP can meet with you and assess the facts of your situation. We can then determine if you have a case and walk you through your legal options.

The new law gives you extra time to pursue legal action against your employer, but do not wait to call (619) 342-8000 or contact us online if you believe you have a claim.

Is HR on Your Side When You Report Sexual Harassment?

Experiencing any kind of mistreatment at work can make one feel unsafe and devalued, and sexual harassment is no exception. Your company is legally obligated to prevent sexual harassment against employees and take steps to protect you from future abuse should you become a victim.

Your company may even have its own policies that go beyond the law, outlining how and to whom to report instances of sexual harasssment and what happens as a result. Despite laws and policies, however, an everyday reality for many people who experience sexual harassment at work is not being sure who they can turn to for help. Your company policy might direct you to report the issue to a supervisor or human resources (HR), but are the people who are tasked with managing conflict at work really on your side?

When It’s in the Company’s Best Interest

Because companies and their HR departments are made up of people with their own values and notions of justice thrown in to mix, it’s hard to paint all them all in a single shade of grey. That said, it would be fair to say that your company’s HR department has a vested interest in protecting the company. That means HR’s willingness to stick up for you when you report sexual harassment could come down to how well you could substantiate your claim in a lawsuit against the company.

It might sound a little cynical – especially for people with careers in HR who do want to help victims – but whether or not HR is on your side depends on the reality of whether it’s in the company’s best interest to be.

To compound matters, how seriously HR responds to sexual harassment reports can vary from company to company despite laws protecting employees. Also, as may be the case for smaller businesses, “HR” might not exist beyond a company owner or manager who wears that hat among many others – which can make reporting sexual harassment even more problematic if this person is the abuser or directly subordinate to them in another capacity.

That said, many companies have robust HR practices and policies that can react quickly to investigate reports and deliver solutions based upon their findings. The trouble with even this, however, is that offending employees may not be immediately removed from the workplace and left to target their victim in other ways or find a new individual to harass.

A similar result can occur when an HR investigation fails to corroborate a victim’s claims, leaving management free to drop the issue without taking action. In an even worse scenario, reporting to HR can cause a company to unlawfully target the victim for other kinds of unlawful mistreatment like discrimination or retaliation.

An Employment Lawyer Is Always on Your Side

Because of HR’s interest in protecting a company, it has an inherently dubious quality to it when it comes to handling sexual misconduct at work. If your company believes your claim could end up in costly litigation, HR might be more than willing to bend over backwards to help. If your claims are inconvenient for the company, they may be ignored or even result in other forms of mistreatment.

Whenever you experience sexual harassment at work, however, an employment law attorney is always on your side. At Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, we’ve advocated for employees who’ve experienced many kinds of mistreatment at work, sexual harassment chief among them. Whenever you experience something illegal happening to you at work, you can turn to our attorneys to help you work through your claim and get the best possible result.

Turning to an attorney first doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also follow your company’s policies for reporting sexual harassment. The best course of action, though, is to take advantage of a free consultation with our attorneys to discuss your specific situation and learn about which steps you should take next.

For more information about how Haeggquist & Eck, LLP can help, reach out to us online or call (619) 342-8000.

Sexual Harassment When You’re Working Away From the Office

Millions of Americans make their living mostly or entirely through remote work. Whether this means working from home or on the go, it’s a fact of life for many that they’ll almost never need to set foot into their employer’s office.

Despite a lack of physical proximity to coworkers and supervisors, however, misconduct such as sexual harassment can still harm employees. It’s a fact most don’t consider until the offender’s intentions become clear or an event is so abrasively apparent that it makes an employee feel unsafe even in his or her own home. Let’s examine what entails sexual harassment for workers under any circumstance and how they might apply to situations where an employee is working remotely.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

As a matter of law, sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that can occur as an isolated incident or be so frequent or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. Physical examples of sexual harassment are rather obvious to many: unwanted touching such as grabbing, kissing, fondling, sexual assault, and other actions that involve any part of the offender’s body coming in contact with the survivor.

Because one is working remotely, it’s possible that he or she is experiencing none of these physical acts of sexual harassment. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s not taking place. There are plenty – if not more – ways a person can engage in acts of sexual harassment without ever touching the survivor.

Non-Physical Sexual Harassment Can Occur Anywhere

Whether it’s in the office or several time zones away, various forms of non-physical sexual harassment can occur without regard for physical proximity to the survivor.

Acts such as these can constitute sexual harassment:

  • Comments of any kind made in an email, instant message, text, or verbally over the phone about a person’s appearance or body as well as their real or perceived sexual activity (even if the recipient is not the subject of such comments)
  • Sexually explicit comments or jokes, even if made in passing or without a direct recipient
  • Requesting sexual favors, be they physical or non-physical (such as sending suggestive photographs and communications)
  • Sending sexually explicit or offensive images, including photographs, videos, drawings, etc.
  • Cyberstalking and other attempts to invade one’s privacy online

These are not the only ways someone may experience sexual harassment. As with most employment law violations, there may be unique situations that seem to fall into a gray area where it’s difficult if something crossed the line into sexual harassment. An employment law attorney can help you by learning about your situation and providing advice on how you can move forward.

Quid Pro Quo & Working From Home

When someone asks for a sexual favor in exchange for an employment perk (or to prevent adverse actions like firing) is known is quid pro quo sexual harassment. Latin for “this for that.” Quid pro quo is particularly pernicious because it involves a great deal of manipulation upon the receiving party.

While a sexual favor in this context would mean a physical sex act in most cases, remote workers could be survivors of this form of abuse, too. Requesting suggestive photographs or videos in exchange for a raise or career advancement may be enough to satisfy a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim. Even requesting explicit text-based conversations or verbal ones over the phone in exchange for similar employment-related matters could qualify.

Get a Lawyer To Help You With Your Claim

If you’re working remotely and believe you are a survivor of sexual harassment from a coworker, supervisor, or another individual associated with your employer, reach out to Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for help. We are an employment law firm whose attorneys are highly experienced at handling employment law violations of all kinds. We often see sexual harassment cases come through our doors, and we have the experience and skill necessary to help you get the best possible result.

If you need legal assistance, take advantage of a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Contact Haeggquist & Eck, LLP online or call (619) 342-8000 to request a complimentary consultation today.

California’s New Sexual Harassment Laws: Removing The Hurdles To Justice

For decades, gender equality laws in California moved at a funeral pace. But in 2017, #MeToo lit a fire behind these movements, prompting swift response from State and Federal legislatures. Now, two years later, education about sexual harassment is mandatory, the bars for harassment claims are lowered, and institutions are taking aim against gender hierarchies. In 2019, the law is starting to catch up to the national recognition of equality.

Perhaps the most impactful California legislation to arise from the #MeToo movement is Senate Bill 1300, codified in Government Code Secs. 12964.5 and 12923. Prior to SB 1300, the law suggested a single act of harassment may not be sufficiently “severe” to meet the “severe or pervasive” standard required for a California sexual harassment claim. Thus, a judge could summarily adjudicate (throw out) a case if there was only one act of harassment, especially if that act did not involve sexual touching. Now, SB 1300 clarifies that a single incident of harassing conduct is enough to create a triable issue of fact for a hostile work environment claim if “the harassing conduct has unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s work performance or created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” SB 1300 also includes a safety net for sexual harassment claims, clarifying that harassment cases “are rarely appropriate for disposition on summary judgment.” In other words, sexual harassment, even just once, should go to a jury to decide.

Prior to SB 1300, California law was unclear whether statements made by non-decision makers, or “stray remarks,” were admissible to show intent in a sexual harassment or discrimination case. Today, Government Code 12923(c) provides that a hostile work environment claim, “… depends on the totality of the circumstances and a discriminatory remark, even if not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a nondecisionmaker, may be relevant, circumstantial evidence of discrimination.”

In 2006, the California Supreme Court opined in Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions, that writers for the sitcom “Friends” could make sexual comments while writing the sexually-themed comedy show. However, employers used this narrow decision to argue other workplaces should also be allowed to engage in this sexual banter. But SB 1300 shot down the employer’s broad argument and stated the legal standard for sexual harassment “should not vary by workplace.” Instead, the California Legislature narrowed the Lyle holding by limiting the “nature of the workplace” defense to whether that type of sexual commentary is “integral to the performance of job duties.”

What does this mean for the harassment victim? The California Legislature has effectively removed many obstacles in a sexual harassment victim’s trek to a jury trial. These cases are extremely factual and rely heavily on witness credibility, and it should ultimately be up to the trier of fact to weigh this evidence.

If you believe you have been sexually harassed at work, you may have a case against your employer. For more information about your rights, and a free case evaluation, please contact us online or call us at (619) 342-8000

[Govt. Code 12923(b).

Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions, 38 Cal. 4th 264, 286-294 (2006).

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