Sexual Harassment

What is considered sexual harassment?

The law recognizes two types of sexual harassment. The first type of sexual harassment, known as “quid pro quo” harassment, occurs when a person’s submission to or rejection of sexual advances, a request for sexual favors, or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature is made a term or condition of their employment or forms the basis for an employment decision. For example, if an individual is disciplined or misses out on a promotional opportunity for failing to give in to sexual advances, he or she may have been the victim of “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. The second type of sexual harassment is known as “hostile work environment” harassment. This type of sexual harassment occurs the workplace becomes so permeated by sexual advances or conduct that it becomes an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, and offensive work environment. If, for example, an individual repeatedly is exposed to sexual advances or unwanted physical conduct of a sexual nature by a co-worker or supervisor and it begins to take a toll on the individual’s work performance, he or she may have a claim for hostile work environment harassment.

Why should I get an attorney to help fight my sexual harassment case?

Under state and federal law, employees have the right to work in a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. However, many employees do not know what is—and is not—sexual harassment under the law. For example, a stray remark or teasing, while offensive, may not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

An employee who believes that he or she may have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace should consult with an experienced employment attorney immediately. An employment attorney is in the best position to evaluate the employee’s claims to determine whether actionable sexual harassment has, in fact, occurred. An employment attorney also is in the best position to evaluate any defenses that the employer may have.

Without the guidance of an experienced employment attorney, the employee may not know how to file a claim against the employer or where to file it. An attorney will help the employee to decide on the appropriate choice of a forum for the case (i.e. state vs. federal, agency vs. court) before it is filed. The choice of a forum is critically important, as some fora are more favorable to plaintiffs than others. For example, there is a widespread perception among employment attorneys that state agencies such as the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights are more favorable to employee plaintiffs than federal courts. The choice of a forum may also limit the amount of damages that can be recovered by an employee who successfully proves that he or she has been the victim of sexual harassment. For example, the amount of compensatory and punitive damages awarded to plaintiffs under the federal statute known as Title VII are capped, with the amount of the cap depending on the size of the employer.

What legal rights do I have if I have been sexually harassed at work?

Under state and federal law, employees have a right to work in a workplace free of sexual harassment. Employees also have a right to be free from retaliation for opposing conduct that they believe constitutes sexual harassment. If an employee is subjected to “quid pro quo” or “hostile work environment” harassment or is subjected to retaliation for opposing sexual harassment, he or she has the right to bring an action against the employer. Depending on the unique facts of the employee’s case, the action could be filed under state or federal law and in a state or federal court or administrative agency. If the employee ultimately prevails against the employer, he or she may be entitled to the following: injunctive relief directing the employer to stop the harassing conduct; back pay; compensatory damages, including out-of-pocket expenses and damages for emotional distress; punitive damages; and attorney’s fees and costs.

Martineau Davis & Associates is committed to aggressive advocacy for our clients while maintaining the highest level of professionalism, integrity, and ethical standards. Contact us at 401-234-0751.

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