SEXUAL HARRASSSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE: Knowing Your Rights
Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, (“Title VII”), outlines protected classes which may never be the basis for discriminatory action by employers. These protected classes are: race, color, religion, sex and national origin. In 1980, the Supreme Court determined that the protected classification of “sex” would include discrimination on the basis of sexual harassment. The law under Title VII recognizes that sexual harassment in the workplace, whether through a private employer or with government and labor organizations, requires at least fifteen (15) employees and meets particular factors under two harassment formats: Hostile Work Environment or Quid Pro Quo. If an employer does not meet the minimum requirement of fifteen (15) employees, then Pennsylvania law will govern the claim by and through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Section 5(a).
Sexual Harassment FormatsSexual Harassment does not require a specific gender and can occur in a number of formats such as:
1. Man to Woman;
2. Woman to Man;
3. Man to Man; and,
4. Woman to Woman.
Basis for a Sexual Harassment ClaimThe basis for sexual harassment, pursuant to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (‘EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), is defined as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature which unreasonably interferes with the performance of a person's job or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment can range in consistent, offensive sexual jokes to inappropriate communication and/or touching.
So how does one recognize if a workplace situation meets a standard of sexual harassment? This falls into determining whether the facts support the two forms of harassment: a Hostile Work Environment or a Quid Pro Quo claim.
Sexual Harassment - Hostile Work EnvironmentThe grounds for a Hostile Work Environment claim requires that the employee suffer “severe or pervasive” conduct that is unwelcomed, based on sex, and rises to a level of creating an abusive and offensive work environment which affects the employee’s ability to perform their work obligations and/or be within the workplace.
To determine if the sexual harassment in a workplace is hostile or abusive, the following factors are considered:
(a) The frequency of the discriminating conduct;
(b) The severity of the conduct;
(c) The type of conduct, such as, whether it is threatening, offensive, or humiliating or, under a reasonable person standard, just a mere offensive utterance; and,
(d) Whether the type of conduct would interfere with the employee’s work performance.
Sexual Harassment - Quid Pro QuoUnlike a Hostile Work Environment claim, a Quid Pro Quo action revolves around the distinction that the severe conduct done unto the employee is by the employee’s supervisor or someone with apparent authority over the employee. The supervisor or individual with authority makes sexual demands to the employee in return for the employee’s continued work placement, extra benefits, or to avoid negative work conditions. While a continuous pattern is required for a Hostile Work Environment claim, a single instance of severe harassment in a Quid Pro Quo action is sufficient.
In conclusion, despite either form of harassment, an employee asserting a claim has the burden to show that they reasonably believed the conduct was offensive, hostile, or abusive; and, a reasonable person in the employee’s position would find that such conduct is offensive, hostile, or abusive. An employer can be held liable for compensatory damages as well as punitive if a harassment claim is asserted by an employee. To that extent, liability will rely on whether the harasser is a co-worker versus a superior and what action the employer took regarding the harassment.
If you believe you are being harassed at work or have been impacted by adverse action from your employer after alleging harassing circumstances, seeking an experienced legal counsel in the realm of Employment Law matters may be in your best interest. We, at Mooney Law, are dedicated to assisting employees to obtain protection in the workplace and take action against unfair employment practices. To find out whether you have a claim, please contact Mooney Law to request a consultation.