Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. It is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees and is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
An employee cannot be fired for reporting sexual harassment, but they can be fired for various other reasons after reporting sexual harassment. It is illegal for an employer to fire someone for reporting sexual harassment, but it is not illegal for employers to fire employees for other reasons.
At-will employment in Pennsylvania allows employers to terminate employees for virtually any reason. An employee who reports sexual harassment can be fired, but the cause cannot be their sexual harassment complaint. Employers may disguise the real motive for the termination. Therefore, it may be challenging to prove that the reporting of sexual harassment was the reason for the termination. An experienced sexual harassment lawyer can help make the connection and should be consulted as soon as possible after the firing.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
Title VII defines two types of workplace sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo.
A hostile work environment can include any of the following behaviors:
- Offensive touching.
- Sexually suggestive jokes or pranks.
- Sexually intimidating behaviors.
- Unwelcome sexual comments.
- Repeated/unwelcome requests for dates or sexual encounters.
- Demeaning comments related the way a person is dressed or acts.
- Touching, caressing, or rubbing a person’s clothing or body inappropriately.
- Threatening a person if they do not comply with sexual requests.
- Ogling a person or staring at a specific body part.
- Insulting or asking someone about their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Sending lewd or suggestive emails, texts, photos, or other communications.
- Making gestures, facial expressions, or motions of a sexual nature.
- Telling lewd jokes or stories or using sexual language.
- Sexual innuendos.
- Physically blocking a person’s movements.
- Following or stalking someone.
- Raping or other sexual assault.
In a hostile work environment legal claim, an employee must prove the following:
- The behavior is directed at the person precisely because of their gender.
- The offenses are severe or pervasive enough that is affects the employee’s ability to do their job, or the harassment is so intense that even one incident can affect the employee’s ability to do their job.
- The employer is responsible for or allows the harassment.
A hostile environment can also occur if the employer providesless favorable conditions of employment to an employee based on their gender, such as:
- Hiring policies that favor one gender over another.
- Offering different wages, promotions, work hours, schedules, assignments, and benefits to one gender and not the other.
- Basing a job evaluation, disciplinary actions, or termination on a person’s gender.
What is Quid Pro Quo?
Quid pro quo is the second type of workplace sexual harassment. Quid pro quo occurs when a supervisor or other manager asks for or demands sexual contact in return for employment benefits or promotions. Even if the employee engages in the behavior, it is still sexual harassment if they were afraid of losing their job or being punished, felt pressured, or were embarrassed if they did not give in to the sexual contact.
In quid pro quo legal claims, gender does not have to be proven to be the only reason for the harassment, but it must be a large part of the reason.
Also, in any workplace sexual harassment case:
- The victim and harasser can be a woman or a man.
- The victim does not have to be of the opposite gender.
- The victim can be anyone who was made uncomfortable by the sexually harassing behavior.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor or another superior, coworker, agent, customer, or client of the employer, or employee in a different department, among others.
Should I Immediately Report Sexual Harassment?
Any employee considering reporting workplace sexual harassment can help strengthen their case by doing the following:
- Confront the harasser. Deny all demands of a sexual nature, and make it clear that the behavior is not welcome.
- Document the dates, times, frequency, and nature of the harassment. Be detailed, accurate, and factual. Record and save images, videos, screenshots, and other visuals to help substantiate the behavior.
- Know the company policy on sexual harassment. It is important to know employees’ rights, protections against retaliation, and the reporting and resolution procedures.
- Report the behavior. The victim should report the inappropriate behavior to company authorities and those with decision-making powers.
- Cooperate with the employer as they investigate the incident. Share evidence and related documents.
- Record and follow up in writing any time there is a discussion about the harassment. Take detailed notes of every meeting with the Human Resources (HR) department, superiors, and others investigating the claim.
- Document any adverse employer actions. After reporting the harassment, record negative employer actions, such as probation, a poor performance review, or demotion.
What if My Employer Fails to Correct the Problem?
If the employer does not respond or responds unsatisfactorily to the claim, file a claim with the EEOC. In Pennsylvania, an employee must file with the EEOC within 300 days from the date of the harassment. An employee is protected from retaliation if they file with the EEOC. A lawyer can help with the complaint and EEOC procedures. The EEOC may provide a Right to Sue letter, depending on the facts of the case.
An employee can also file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). A lawyer can advise on which process to use. The victim should hire a lawyer right away, especially if the employee has been fired after reporting sexual harassment.
Various state and federal laws protect workplace sexual harassment victims and those who report it. A lawyer knows these laws and can prepare a strong case against the employer. A lawyer can help negotiate a settlement with the employer or their insurer and prepare to take the case to court if needed.
Workplace sexual harassment is illegal, and being fired for reporting sexual harassment is illegal as well. Employers can fire someone for other reasons, even if the reason is covertly because of their sexual harassment complaint. Anyone who has been fired after reporting sexual harassment should consult with a lawyer quickly.
What Compensation can I Recover?
It depends on the exact nature of the case, but those who have been fired for reporting sexual harassment can potentially recover the following:
- Out-of-pocket expenses, such as litigation costs and lawyer fees.
- Financial compensation for mental distress, medical expenses, and lost wages.
In some cases, an employee may want to return to their employer, so a lawyer can work toward job reinstatement and the restoration of job benefits.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Victims Who Experienced Retaliation for Reporting Harassment
If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment or have been fired after reporting harassment, contact a Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyer at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. today. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. From our offices in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.