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SEXUAL HARASSMENT Q & A

Q: Does federal and Florida law protect me against sexual harassment?

A: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law which protects employees against sexual harassment in the workplace.  The Florida Civil Rights Act is the Florida law which protects employees against sexual harassment in the workplace.

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Q: What is the definition of sexual harassment?

A: Because the types of behavior constituting sexual harassment can take a variety of forms, there is no single legal definition of sexual harassment.   However, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal law on sexual harassment, has defined sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.  Numerous courts have adopted the EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment.    

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Q: Is sexual harassment a form of discrimination?

A: Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.  When a female employee is sexually harassed, she is being discriminated against because she is a woman.  When a male employee is sexually harassed, he is being discriminated against because he is a man. 

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Q: Who is protected against sexual harassment?

A: Both men and women are protected against sexual harassment.  Employees are also protected against sexual harassment by individuals of the opposite sex and the same sex. 

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Q: Am I protected against sexual harassment from a customer or client?

A: Employees are protected against sexual harassment by third-parties, including customers, clients, contractors, and consultants.  When your employer knows or should known that a third-party is harassing you, the employer is obligated to take prompt and effective action to prevent the harassment from continuing. 

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Q: What is hostile work environment sexual harassment?

A: In order to be unlawful, sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the terms and conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile or abusive work environment.  To hold an employer liable for sexual harassment, the harassment need not be severe and pervasive because one or the other will do.  Sexual behavior is considered severe when it involves physical touching.  Sexual behavior is considered pervasive when it is on-going or persistent.

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Q: Does each act of sexual harassment have to be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment?

A: Whether you endured a hostile work environment can only be determined by looking at all the circumstances.  Under the totality of the circumstances approach, courts must evaluate your work environment as a whole and must consider the acts of sexual harassment cumulatively.  The totality of the circumstances approach means that courts cannot carve up the individual acts of sexual harassment and determine whether each individual act of sexual harassment, by itself, was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.

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Q: Is the employer liable when my supervisor fired me for rejecting his sexual advances?

A: Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when submission to or rejection of a supervisor’s sexual behavior, such as sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or sexual demands, is used as the basis for an employment decision against victim.  When you are fired for refusing to submit to or rejecting a supervisor’s sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or sexual demands, the employer is automatically liable for the sexual harassment and resulting termination.

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Q: Is sexual harassment against another employee part of my hostile work environment?

A: Because courts use a totality of the circumstances approach in determining whether the sexual harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, sexually harassing behavior towards other employees or customers can be used to support your claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment.  Sexually harassing behavior towards other employees or customers is part of your work environment and contributes to the overall hostility of the work environment.  You can also prove that you worked in a hostile work environment by showing severe or pervasive sexual harassment directed at other employees or customers, even if you were not individually singled out for the sexually harassing behavior.  In other words, even if you were not the direct target of sexually harassing behavior in the workplace, sexually harassing behavior directed at other employees or customers can give rise to a viable claim that you worked in a hostile work environment. 

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Q: Do I have a case when I am subjected to abusive behavior because I am a woman?

A: Because employees are protected against discrimination on account of sex or gender in the workplace, hostile work environment harassment is not limited to situations involving explicitly sexual behavior.  Words or conduct that are humiliating and degrading to women because of their sex or gender can create a discriminatorily abusive working environment.  Courts have consistently held that the use of sexually degrading remarks, gender-specific insults, and gender-specific epithets towards a female employee constitute impermissible harassment on the basis of sex or gender.  Under such circumstances, the female victim’s conditions of employment are humiliating, degrading, and abusive in a way that conditions of male co-workers’ employment are not. 

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Q: How do I let the harasser know that the harassment is unwanted?

A: In order to prove a sexual harassment case, you must establish that the sexually harassing behavior was unwanted.  Although not necessarily appropriate or realistic in all cases, you should take action to inform the harasser that the sexual behavior is unwanted.  There are many ways that you can notify the harasser that the behavior is unwanted, including telling the harasser to stop the behavior, telling the harasser not to engage in the behavior, telling the harasser the behavior is inappropriate or offensive, and telling the harasser that the behavior is upsetting.

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Q: Is the employer required to stop the sexual harassment against me?

A: Once an employer knows or should know about sexually harassing conduct against you in the workplace, the employer is obligated to take prompt and effective remedial action that is reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent the harassment from recurring.  When the employer takes no remedial action, or when the remedial action taken does not end the harassment, the employer becomes liable for the past harassment and any future harassment. 

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Q: How does the employer receive notice that I am being sexually harassed?

A: Generally, an employer receives notice that an employee is being sexually harassed through a complaint from the victim.  However, the employer can also receive notice of the sexual harassment from an employee who complains on behalf of the victim or an employee who reports the sexual harassment.  The employer is also deemed to have notice of the sexual harassment against the victim if the harasser sexually harassed another employee in the past. 

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Q: What information should I include in a complaint of sexual harassment?

A: When you make a complaint of sexual harassment, it is important that you provide the employer with enough information about the sexual behavior to reasonably notify the employer that the complaint you are making is in fact a sexual harassment complaint.  If the complaint does not provide enough information about the sexual behavior to notify the employer that you are in fact making a sexual harassment complaint, the employer’s duty to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the harassing from continuing is not triggered.  For example, if the harasser is touching you, you should notify the employer about the touching.   Likewise, if the harasser is making sexual advances, sexual remarks, or sexual jokes, you should notify the employer about such behavior.      

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Q: Is the employer required to investigate my complaint of sexual harassment?

A: When you make a complaint about sexual harassment in the workplace, the employer is required to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation.  To constitute an adequate investigation, the employer must conduct the investigation in good faith, free of improper bias, and in a manner not designed to reach a pre-determined conclusion.  An employer’s failure to conduct a prompt, thorough, and adequate investigation is a basis for holding the employer liable for the sexually harassing behavior against you.

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Q: Can I use evidence that the person who harassed me also harassed another employee to prove my case.

A: Evidence that the person who sexually harassed you also sexually harassed another employee has significant evidentiary importance.  First, it is evidence that can be used to fatally undermine false assertions frequently made by harassers, including the sexual harassment never occurred and the sexual harassment was not unwanted.  Second, it is evidence that be used to establish that the employer knew or should have known that you were being sexually harassing by the harasser.  Third, it is evidence that be used to establish the employer failed to take prompt and effective remedial action to prevent the harasser from sexually harassing you. 

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Q: Am I protected against retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment?

A: Employees are protected against retaliation for complaining about sexually harassing behavior towards them or other employees in the workplace.  Employees are also protected against retaliation for rejecting a supervisor’s sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or sexual demands, including circumstances where a supervisor conditions a favorable employment decision based on submission to sexual behavior or threatens an unfavorable employment decision based on rejection of sexual behavior. 

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Do You Have More Questions Or Believe You Have A Case?

If you have more questions or believe that you have a sexual harassment case, please contact our office to speak with an employment lawyer.  You will never have to pay to speak with an employment law attorney here.  We can help you take action to protect and vindicate your employee rights.  We take 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.    

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