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What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is employment discrimination. It is verbal or physical abuse, typically of a sexual nature. The harasser can be a man or a woman, and so can the victim; the harasser and the victim can be of the same gender. Harassment is considered discrimination because it singles out the victim on the basis of a protected category — in this case, gender. Victims of sexual harassment often suffer negative effects. They may not be able to perform their jobs sufficiently, they may suffer psychological damage and they may feel forced to quit. An attorney with experience handling sexual harassment claims can tell you if you have a case for sexual harassment.

There are two main categories of sexual harassment: "quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile environment" harassment. Both are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo harassment typically occurs when a supervisor makes a request for a sexual favor in return for giving an employee an employment-related benefit: a raise, a promotion or a positive job review, for instance. It may involve a direct or implied threat of retaliation if the employee does not agree to the request. Quid pro quo harassment can consist of a single request or numerous sexual advances or demands.

Quid pro quo harassment is perpetrated by managers and supervisors. Because the harasser is a representative of the employer, the employer often is held vicariously liable for the supervisor's actions. It is not necessary to prove that you were economically harmed by the quid pro quo harassment. It is enough to prove that your supervisor harassed you, that an aspect of your job was conditioned on your response and the sexual request was unwelcome by you.

Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment that creates a hostile environment is different. Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome sexual attention or conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates a working environment that a reasonable person would find abusive. It also occurs when the attention or conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee's job performance. Hostile environment sexual harassment cases usually involve a multitude of offensive acts committed over a period of time, although in some circumstances, they may involve a single act that is particularly abusive or threatening.

Common types of conduct that will create a hostile environment include:

  • Sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors, not necessarily as quid pro quo
  • Posting pornographic or suggestive pictures where they may be seen by other employees
  • Sending sexually explicit emails
  • Sexual remarks or innuendo (for example, asking a married employee about her intimate relations with her husband or continually teasing a male worker believed to be homosexual)
  • Watching a co-worker in a bathroom, locker room or dressing room
  • Physical contact, including sexual assault

Not all conduct, even if it is offensive, will be found to create a hostile environment. One off-color joke probably will not be considered sexual harassment unless it is part of a larger course of conduct. Hostile environment cases are judged on an objective standard: Would a reasonable person find it offensive? In evaluating a claim of hostile environment harassment, the court will look at all the circumstances, including the extent and nature of the conduct, the context in which it took place and whether the conduct was unwelcome.

Speak To An Employment Law Attorney

You do not have to put up with sexual harassment, whether it is quid pro quo or creates a hostile environment. You have the right to a workplace in which you are treated with dignity and without illegal discrimination or harassment. If you believe you have been a victim of sexual harassment, contact an experienced employment law attorney at The Amlong Firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to protect your rights.

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