It is beginning to feel like every day in the paper and online; there is a new story about sexual harassment, especially at large, well-known corporations. Employees and former employees have made allegations of sexual harassment against Uber, Google, and Tesla to name a few. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace which includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment exists when a condition of employment is predicated on the performance of a sexual act, or unwelcome sexual conduct is pervasive or severe enough that it creates a hostile work environment for the victim.
One corporation is getting much of the media attention these days because dozens of women came forward and accused former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly and others at Fox of rampant sexually inappropriate misconduct. In September 2016, Fox paid 20 million dollars to Gretchen Carlson to settle her sexual harassment lawsuit against former CEO and Chairman of Fox News Roger Ailes. There have been reports that several other women received significant payouts after they complained about sexual harassment and discrimination. Since even more allegations have surfaced, Fox has fired O’Reilly, and multiple women have filed lawsuits against him and the company for sexual harassment and retaliation.
These matters above are taking place against very high-profile companies, and some even involve famous (or infamous) parties. But what about the victims in smaller businesses? What about the victims who can’t afford to walk away from a job? How about the victim who has no idea who to talk to? Perhaps all of this media attention on sexual harassment will result in positive changes to what is still an almost common workplace problem.
A Harvard Business Review article reported:
“Even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that 70% of employers provide sexual harassment training and 98% of companies have sexual harassment policies, the number of sexual harassment claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is significant — there were 6,822 claims of sexual harassment in 2015.”
According to one survey conducted in 2015, 75% of women experienced some sexual harassment at work, but 71% of those women never reported it.
By this logic, the number of claims filed with the EEOC represents only a small fraction of the sexual harassment that is occurring in the workplace.
These statistics demonstrate that there is a serious disconnect between employee education, the frequency of sexual harassment, and the reporting of unlawful conduct. Fear of retaliation from an employer or the harasser is allegedly the main reason why most women do not formally complain about or report sexual harassment in the workplace. Title VII and New York labor laws both prohibit retaliation in addition to sex harassment. The laws alone, however, do not seem to be enough to convince victims to try and enforce their rights.
There is no single best method for handling sexual harassment when it happens to you. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work or are a witness to it, there are various ways you may consider approaching the problem.
Calling a Company Hotline
Some companies have hotlines to report harassment and discrimination. Many of the women suing Fox, however, claimed to have no knowledge that such a hotline existed. If you are aware of such a hotline where you work, do you know if it is anonymous? Do you know what happens to your complaint once you call? Do you want to speak with someone you know and trust instead?
Speaking to the Offender(s)
Letting the offending person(s) know about the problem may immediately resolve the issue. In a hostile work environment situation, especially, the perpetrator may be unaware that the conduct is inappropriate or offensive. Once on notice, it’s possible the person will cease his or her behavior. If not, you have made the individual aware that you are uncomfortable.
Following the Employee Handbook
If the company you work for has an employee handbook, review it. You may find the policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment and reporting. There may be information about a hotline or a particular person you must contact if you have something to report. If the handbook instructs you to follow specific complaint procedures, follow them. If you don’t, you may jeopardize your rights
Speaking to your Supervisor or Human Resources Department
In the absence of other policies and procedures, you can report the conduct to your supervisor or manager. If one of those people is the individual whose conduct is in question, go to that person’s superior or someone else in upper management or human resources.
Speaking with a Lawyer
Consulting an attorney who has experience with employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases can help you figure out how to proceed in a manner that protects your legal rights.
Filing an Administrative Charge
If following internal protocol does not resolve your issue, you can file a complaint with an administrative agency such as the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the New York State Division of Human Rights or the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
If, after investigating and negotiating, the EEOC cannot resolve the claim with your employer, it will give you a “right to sue” letter which allows you to file a lawsuit in federal court.
Filing a Lawsuit
After you receive the right to sue, you can file a civil suit in a federal court of law. A right to sue is not required in state court. You may be able to recover monetary damages for any physical and emotional injuries the sexual harassment caused. You may also be able to get back pay, reinstatement and attorney’s fees. Your employer may be required to implement new policies or training to prevent future sexual harassment charges.
If you see or experience unlawful sexual harassment on your job, contact attorneys at Leeds Brown Law P.C., representing employees in New York City and the surrounding counties. We can compassionately and skillfully help you navigate the process of reporting and ending sexual harassment. You don’t have to stay silent. Call Leeds Brown at 1-800-585-4658 for a free case evaluation today. Someone is available to take your call 24/7 so don’t wait.