Employment law has as its aims the fair treatment of employees and protection of their opportunities for work and advancement. Sexual harassment threatens an employee’s rights, dignity and even safety. Those who face such conduct can benefit from the advocacy, expertise and guidance of West Coast Employment Lawyers who can hold supervisors, managers, co-workers and the companies accountable. 

Types of Harassment

The foundation for harassment claims is the unwelcome nature of the conduct. Co-workers or employees and their supervisors who consent to a sexual or romantic relationship necessarily welcome the conduct, at least until the relationship ends or the employee declares the conduct is no longer welcome. 

The types of harassment claim generally fall into two camps: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. 

Quid Pro Quo

West Coast Employment Lawyers represent victims of quid pro quo harassment. In these cases, the perpetrator promises some job-related benefit or withholding of adverse action if the victim acquiesces of a sexual demand or advance. 

A broad array of employment benefits may furnish part of the quid pro quo. These include job offers, hiring, promotions, transfers to the claimant’s desired department, office or division; pay raises, bonuses and wanted assignments. Similarly, sexual harassment occurs when the supervisor or decision maker demotes, fires, assigns the claimant to an unfavorable job or location, deducts pay or denies a raise, or takes other disciplinary action because the claimant did not capitulate. If the claimant’s refusal did not prompt adverse action, then no quid pro quo harassment occurs. Such a circumstances can still, if pervasive or severe, may constitute hostile work environment harassment (more below).

You may need a sexual harassment attorney even if the promise of benefit or threat of adverse action is not explicit. Implicit work-related outcomes may take the form of, for instance, a restauranteur suggesting that waitresses -- over the waitress’ objections -- will or may earn more tips from customers by wearing skimpy outfits in the dining room.

Claims of quid pro quo harassment require that the demands or advances come from someone with authority over the victim. The claimant’s immediate supervisor and others to whom the claimant reports (such as a regional manager or officer of the entity) qualify as those who can be liable under a quid pro quo theory. In addition, this form of harassment can come from those with authority over personnel and pay matters, even if not day-to-day managers or supervisors. In this group lie human resource managers or officers.

Quid pro quo claims do not arise without someone in control of the claimant committing the wrongful conduct. That means a co-worker who may threaten to report the claimant for alleged misconduct does not commit quid pro quo harassment. Similarly, the claimant does not prevail if the harassing conduct had its source in a manager of an office or division in which the claimant does not work. 

Hostile Work Environment

In a hostile work environment harassment case, an employment attorney focuses on the effect of misbehavior on the claimant’s ability to tolerate the workplace and perform the work duties. 

This is reflected in the elements of a hostile work environment claim -- unwanted advances, comments or actions, which are based upon the claimant’s gender, and which are severe or pervasive. Necessarily, the last element excludes an occasional off-hand or lewd remark. However, repeated offensive words or conduct can constitute harassment. In fact, one instance of unwanted physical contact or a threat may be enough to be considered severe. 

If it happens with sufficient frequency or severity, the following can support a hostile work-environment claim:

* The display of photographs, videos, drawings, posts, messages and notes of a sexual nature;
* Graphic descriptions of a person’s body or appearance
* Insulting or unwelcome comments about a person’s sexual activity or sex life
* Slurs
* Assaults, batteries, communicating threats, or restricting a person’s free and unobstructed movement 
* Subjecting the employee/claimant to humiliation, such as by forcing the person to perform demeaning tasks 
* A supervisor exhibits preferential treatment to one who reciprocates the sexual advances or requests, with those employees of the same gender as the favored employee not getting positive or beneficial treatment

This list is not exhaustive, but it gives a flavor for the types of cases that an employment attorney may handle in the harassment field.

Steps to Take

Report to Employer

Victims should report incidents of harassment to a human resources manager, diversity or similar officer or others as directed in the employer’s sexual harassment policy. The reports should specify the names of those involved, the date and time and the specifics of the conduct. Without giving the employer an opportunity to investigate or take corrective actions, claimants may lose the ability to hold the employer legally accountable. 

Complaint With DFEH

As a prerequisite to bring a harassment lawsuit, claimants must submit allegations to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This agency investigates the allegations and decides whether to take enforcement action or attempt a settlement or other voluntary resolution. If the Department declines, it will then issue a “Right-to-Sue" letter to the claimant. With that letter, the claimant or an employment attorney on the employee’s behalf is free to file a lawsuit in California state court. Claimants may ask the Department at the outset for a “Right-to-Sue" letter and bypass Department action altogether.

Employers who retaliate against employees for pursuing their rights against harassment face legal action. This includes firing, demoting, harassing, reducing the pay of or withholding job benefits from those who file complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

California law imposes a one-year deadline from the last incident of the harassment to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. An employee must file a lawsuit within one year after the Department issues its “Right to Sue” letter.

Remedies for Harassment Claims 

A successful employee in a harassment lawsuit may recover back pay as the result of a termination by the employer or because of hostile work conditions. A sexual harassment attorney may also pursue remedies such as hiring, job restoration, a court order to stop the harassment, emotional distress, costs of the lawsuit and attorney fees.