Relief for Floridians victimized by sexual harassment at work

On behalf of William R. Amlong

Florida and federal civil rights laws make sexual harassment at work unlawful.

On-the-job sexual harassment is illegal sex discrimination under both federal and Florida civil rights laws. These laws provide remedies through state and federal agencies and courts. The laws and procedures are complex. Hiring a lawyer who is conversant with both the law and the procedures early in the process will help you to preserve legal rights and meet important deadlines.

Broadly, there are three types of sexual harassment in the workplace:

First , when a supervisor uses sex as either a "carrot" or a "stick" - demanding sex, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly, in exchange for giving an employee something good (for example, a raise or a better schedule) or not doing something bad (for example, termination, suspension, demotion or transfer). This is quid-pro-quo sexual harassment.

Second , in a variation on the first type, a boss who is simply a boorish creep makes unwelcome sexual advances - telling his assistant about his and his wife's "open" marriage, suggesting to one of the sales guys in her territory that he looks really "hot" in that tee-shirt, staring, commenting on or even touching selected body parts.

Third , there are men who simply do not like or respect women, and women who simply do not like men, who debase employees of the opposite sex by cursing at them, telling them they are stupid, calling them "bimbo," "whore," "bitch," "prick" or "dickhead," and so on, assigning them the most difficult tasks in the office and making sure that they are excluded from either "lunch with the girls" or "drinks with the guys."

All three have a common thread, in both state and federal courts: the behavior has to be not only hostile, intimidating or offensive, but either serious or pervasive. In other words, a court will look at all the circumstances. Does the boss's behavior unreasonably interfere with your ability to do your job? A boss who calls you "babe" or "stud" once probably is not guilty. One who grabs a body part is getting close to crossing the line. One who says, "the bed or the door" probably does it. Also on the most-wanted list is someone who tells you every day (especially after you have asked him or her not to) about their past (or last night's) sexual adventures, or about how incredibly stupid and inept women are (or men).

Many kinds of behaviors can contribute to a hostile environment, including sexually explicit pictures or comments; unwanted touching or assault; leering and staring; offensive electronic communications; unwanted invitations; crude jokes and humor; dismissive, disparaging and disrespectful behavior; and more.

A worker can be the victim of sexual harassment if he or she is the direct object of the offensive behavior, a bystander in an overall environment or a witness of the treatment of another person. When the victim is not the direct object of the harassing behavior, but still sufficiently exposed to it for the harassment to rise to the level of illegal harassment, one Florida court has said that such a victim is "essentially swept up in its backwash."

If any of this is happening to you, complain - now! The corporate employer (the one generally with the money, or at least the insurance policy) can escape liability by showing that it has an anti-harassment policy, and that an employee who is suing for harassment failed to take the complaint to management so that it could fix it. On the other hand, if there is quid-pro-quo behavior going on, and an employee loses his or her job (or even gets a demotion or transfer), the employer has no defense.

Sexual harassment law is a complicated interplay of state and federal statutes and case law. It is crucial to seek the advice of an experienced employment lawyer as early as possible, but at any stage if conditions continue. "Lawyering up" both puts a professional on your team and lets your employer know that you are serious about resolving your issues.

The employment law attorneys at The Amlong Firm in Fort Lauderdale represent clients in sexual harassment matters and all other forms of illegal discrimination. William R. Amlong, Esquire, successfully argued Faragher v. City of Boca Raton before the United States Supreme Court in 1998. Faragher makes corporate employers responsible for the harassing behavior of their supervisory personnel unless, One , they have in place effective mechanisms to prevent the harassment, and the employee unreasonably refused to make use of it, or , Two , the employee suffered any tangible job detriment, such as such as discharge, demotion or undesirable reassignment growing out of the harassment.