Consulting with an employee rights attorney who represents sexual harassment victims will help clarify whether filing a complaint or pursuing a lawsuit can be justified.
On its “Facts About Sexual Harassment” webpage, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states, “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
This definition covers everything from catcalling and displays of pornography to unwanted touching and assault. The EEOC also notes that victims can be men or women, and of the same sex and gender as their harasser. Individuals who can commit and be held accountable for sexual harassment include supervisors and coworkers.
In Ohio, where we maintain principal offices in Columbus and Cleveland, the laws against sexual harassment are the same as those administered by federal agencies such as the EEOC. Employers with more than 15 employees must protect workers from harassment. When they fail to investigate complaints or do not take action to end harassment, employers can be sued by a sexual harassment lawyer Cleveland Ohio under a law like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Recognizing Sexual Harassment
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission identifies two types of sexual harassment. The first, quid pro quo harassment, involves making a job, promotion, or professional opportunity contingent upon agreeing to going on a date or engaging in sexual activities.
The other type of sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment. Such an environment develops when the victim feels threatened or intimidated by another’s actions or comments. A harasser may propose a sexual quid pro quo and then make work difficult or unsafe when the victim refuses their advances. The harasser may also threaten termination if the victim does not succumb to the sexual requests/demands.
Importantly, neither a one-time request for a date nor occasional good-natured teasing meets the legal definition of sexual harassment. The standard used by the EEOC, courts and juries are “severe or pervasive.” Consulting with an employee rights attorney who represents sexual harassment victims will help clarify whether filing a complaint or pursuing a lawsuit can be justified.
Employers Cannot Punish Employees Who Report Sexual Harassment
The laws that define and prohibit sexual harassment also protect victims from getting fired, demoted or subjected to more harassment when they report the problem. Employers can be sued for retaliation if an employee is terminated after reporting sexual harassment, terminated after participating in an investigation into sexual harassment, demoted after reporting sexual harassment, or if an employee receives a decrease in pay because of reporting sexual harassment.