Federal Court Rules That Physical Touching Creates A Sexually Hostile Work Environment
Having represented sexual harassment victims for more than twenty years, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County know that unwanted physical touching is one of the most egregious acts of sexual harassment. In cases involving physical touching, our sexual harassment attorneys in Ocala, Florida have learned, courts generally rule that the victim worked in a sexually hostile environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law. In this article, our sexual harassment lawyers in Marion County explain how the decision in yeaman v. City of Burley,2023 WL 2868575 (D. Idaho April 10, 2023) demonstrates that physical touching is a form of severe sexual harassment that generally will enable a sexual harassment victim to prove that she worked in a sexually hostile environment in violation of federal employment discrimination law.
Legal Protection From Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex. Since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Meritor Sav. Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), courts have uniformly ruled that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII. As the Meritor Court explained, employees are not required to run a “gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and make a living.” To violate Title VII, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment.
Under Title VII, employers have an obligation to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. When an employer knows or should know that an employee is being sexually harassed, Title VII requires the employer to take prompt and effective remedial action to stop the harassment and prevent recurrence of the harassment. If the employer takes no remedial action, or the remedial action taken does not stop the harassment, the employer has created and maintained a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.
Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In Yeaman, a woman named Yeaman brought a sexual harassment claim against her former employer, the City of Burley (the City), pursuant to Title VII. Yeaman alleges that she was required to work in a sexually hostile environment in violation of Title VII.
In May 2014, Yeaman began working for the City as a lab technician. After about a year, according to Yeaman, her supervisor, Hodge, began giving her unwanted sexual attention. For example, Yeaman claims that Hodge made inappropriate comments to her at work, such as remarking on her breast size, making a sexual inuendo about her office pen, and attributing her divorce to her failure to do a “good enough job” showing her husband’s oats.
In 2018, Yeaman hoped to be promoted to the position of Pretreatment Coordinator. Yeaman maintains that Hodge attempted to capitalized on that hope by “dangling the possibility of her advancement to pretreatment coordinator as he made sexual advances.” As the time for filing for the Pretreatment Coordinator position neared, Yeaman claims that Hodge “intensified his sexual advances.” At times, Hodge would allegedly stand behind Yeaman while she was at her computer and dangle his arms over her. When she retracted from the touches, Yeaman maintains that Hodge would comment that her “job was on the line,” and that she had “better be careful” because she had not been officially promoted yet. Yeaman contends that Hodge’s hostility towards her intensified when she rejected his advances.
Alleged Physical Touching
On one occasion, Yeaman claims that Hodge reached his hand down her shirt between her breasts and pulled up a ring which was at the bottom of her necklace. Another time, while Yeaman was alone in the office, Hodge allegedly entered, stood behind her, placed one hand on her lower back and the other on her hand, and asked her to go for a ride with him. Yeaman understood Hodge to be requesting a sexual encounter. When she declined, Yeaman alleges that Hodge “became angry” and “stormed out of the office.”
In July 2018, Yeaman was promoted to the position of Pretreatment Coordinator. Yeaman alleges that Hodge did not make any sexual advances after her promotion. Instead, according to Yeaman, Hodge began intentionally making her job more difficult as punishment for rejecting his sexual advances. Yeaman claims that Hodge sabotaged her work by deleting files from her computer, frequently changed instructions for her assignments, and told her that he would perform certain tasks, but then, “when the date was near,” put the responsibility on her.
Physical Touching Creates Hostile Environment
The City filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Yeaman’s sexual harassment claim. In moving for dismissal, the City argued that the sexual harassment Yeaman allegedly experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. In other words, the City maintained that even if Yeaman was sexually harassed, that sexual harassment did not constitute unlawful sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. The trial court denied the City’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Yeaman was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on whether she worked in a sexually hostile environment in violation of Title VII.
In denying the City’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on the physical nature of the alleged sexual harassment. The trial court observed that Yeaman claims on one occasion Hodge “stuck his whole hand down her shirt,” and grabbed the end of a necklace resting between her breasts. The trial court also noted that Yeaman alleges that on another occasion Hodge stood behind her “when she was alone in her office, placed one hand on her lower back and the other on her hand, and asked her to go for a ride with him.” The trial court further pointed out that Yeaman maintains that at other times Hodge would stand behind her while she was at her computer and dangle his arms over her. Based on the totality of the evidence, the trial court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Yeaman was subjected to severe or pervasive sexual harassment in violation of Title VII.
Free Consultation For Harassment Victims
One of the most important decisions sexual harassment victims must make is which sexual harassment lawyers to consult with regarding the rights and remedies under federal employment discrimination law. As part of our decades long commitment to helping sexual harassment victims, an experienced sexual harassment attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for employees, and you will not have to pay to speak with our sexual harassment attorneys regarding your rights as a sexual harassment victim. Our sexual harassment lawyers are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.
Marion County Sexual Harassment Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of sexual harassment victims. If you have been sexually harassed at work or have questions about your rights as a sexual harassment victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our sexual harassment in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes sexual harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.