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Gay and Lesbian Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassing anyone is wrong regardless of the motivation, the victim, or the perpetrator. And sexual harassment in the workplace is not contained to members of a different sex. Another type of sexual harassment that can occur is gay and lesbian sexual harassment. This type of harassment can occur when someone is being targeted strictly because of their sexual orientation, their perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The workplace should be a comfortable environment for all wherein employees feel safe and are able to work productively. It is the responsibility of the supervisor and the company to provide a positive working atmosphere for their staff. If they fail to do that, they can be held liable for any damages that a person facing sexual harassment may seek.

When a person has become targeted at work because of their actual or perceived sexual identity, it is important that they not allow the situation to continue. Although quitting is one way to avoid the problem, it will not resolve it. It is best to notify their employer and contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer who can provide advice on how to handle the situation properly.

What Constitutes Gay and Lesbian Sexual Harassment?

This type of harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to sexual comments, advances, or contact because of their sexual orientation or their perceived sexual orientation. It does not matter if the harasser is of the same sex or not; if they are targeting a person specifically because of their sexual orientation, they are potentially guilty of gay and lesbian sexual harassment.

This type of harassment can manifest in a variety of ways with varying levels of severity. A few examples include the following:

  • Sexual advances made by someone of the same sex
  • Sexual jokes or comments that are homosexual in nature
  • Using derogatory homophobic slang in the office
  • Exposing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity against their wishes to other coworkers, a supervisor, a manager, customers, clients, or the CEO
  • Getting fired from work for being gay
  • Experiencing retaliation in the form of getting demoted or punished in response to filing a gay and lesbian sexual harassment complaint
  • Sexual assault
  • Rape

Although the severity of these examples ranges from benign to criminal, any type of harassing behavior should be reported immediately to a supervisor or to a representative in the employer’s human resources (HR) department.

How Prevalent is Gay and Lesbian Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

A recent study found that seven out of 10 members of the gay community claim that they have experienced some type of sexual harassment at work. For the most part, the harassment is limited to coworkers either making inappropriate comments or asking unwelcome questions about the person’s sex life. Others have received unsolicited verbal sexual advances.

Many employees do not report these incidents for a variety of reasons. Some employees do not wish to publicize their sexual orientation, whereas others fear it will not make any difference if they do report it. There are other employees who experience it so routinely that if they did report it, they believe they would make a nuisance of themselves for the number of reports they would have to file and the number of individuals it would include.

What Laws Address Gay and Lesbian Sexual Harassment?

When it comes to this type of harassment, the law is a little complicated. There are no laws at the federal level or in Pennsylvania that specifically address gay and lesbian sexual harassment. However, for the most part, the same laws that prohibit sexual harassment apply here.

Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the mistreatment of coworkers in the workplace because of their sex, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRC) prohibits sexual harassment at the workplace.

Although the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also prohibits sexual harassment, it does list sexual orientation as one of the areas in which it prohibits harassment.

Although Pennsylvania does not specify sexual orientation in its state law, there are cities throughout the commonwealth that do address it more directly. For instance, Philadelphia has the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, which prohibits employment discrimination based specifically on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits gender identity discrimination, which the law defines as any discrimination that surrounds a person’s appearance, behavior, or physical characteristics that conflict with their gender.

Other cities and towns throughout the commonwealth have adopted similar legislation prohibiting such sexual harassment. Those areas include Allentown, Bethlehem, Cheltenham Township, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Easton, Harrisburg, Hatboro, Haverford, Jenkintown, Lancaster, Lansdowne, Lower Merion Township, New Hope, Newtown, Reading, Scranton, Springfield Montgomery County, Susquehanna Township, Swarthmore, Upper Merion Township, West Chester, Whitemarsh Township, and York.

What Should I Do if I Believe I am a Victim of Gay or Lesbian Sexual Harassment?

Those who have encountered gay or lesbian sexual harassment in the workplace should not panic and understand that there are procedures and laws in place to protect victims. However, there are several steps an employee should take immediately after an incident occurs. By following these steps right away, it will assist in filing a formal complaint or, if necessary, filing a lawsuit later. These steps include the following:

  • Do not rage quit: Although the temptation to just walk away for good is strong, that may not be the best solution. If the situation is too uncomfortable and a person cannot stand being at a job anymore, they should first consult with a lawyer before resigning.
  • File a complaint: Once an incident occurs, it is best to immediately report it to a supervisor or the HR department.
  • Gather evidence:  When an incident occurs, the victim should make sure that they take meticulous notes, including who was involved, where and when the incident occurred, what took place, and who witnessed it. If possible, the person should collect and save any emails, text messages, and photos that were used in the harassment.
  • Do not waste time: A person has a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit or file a charge before their credibility starts to diminish or the statute of limitations runs out. The quicker a person can file a complaint, the more credence a story will have.

It is very important that a victim respond immediately when an action that could be considered hurtful occurs. It is important to speak with the person who engaged in the act quickly as well. In most instances, they do not realize the pain they make have caused with their words or actions. In many instances, the issue can be rectified immediately through a simple conversation.

What can I Do if I am Not Gay, but am Still Being Harassed?

A person need not be either gay or a lesbian to be the victim of gay or lesbian sexual harassment. The various laws cover the prohibition of sexual harassment based on any real or perceived sexual orientation. An employee may be the subject of homophobic slurs even if they are straight. A person may still be entitled to collect compensation from the company or the harasser based on the emotional duress of the incident, and if their employer took no corrective action to stop the harassment.

If a person is straight and is still being victimized by homophobic or gay-related taunts, they should report the incident as any other victim would. This holds true regardless if the harasser is someone of the opposite sex or the same sex; or a coworker or a supervisor.

How Do I Report an Incident of Gay or Lesbian Sexual Harassment?

Once an incident occurs and the employee has collected the evidence that they require, there are a series of steps that they should follow to report the incident. Initially, they should confront the harasser to discuss the situation and inform the person of how their actions made them feel. This could clear up the situation and end it there. If not, a victim may need to take their complaint elsewhere.

Before taking any additional steps, it is wise to contact a sexual harassment lawyer who can provide advice and guidance on how best to proceed. They will also be able to intercede on a victim’s behalf when the situation calls for it. The steps a person should take after speaking with the harasser include the following:

  • Complain to a supervisor: The employee should speak to their direct supervisor about the incident and explain what happened and the resolution they are seeking. If the supervisor was the one who engaged in the harassment, the victim should go to that person’s supervisor.
  • File a formal complaint: If speaking with the supervisor failed to produce any results or made the situation worse, the victim should file a formal complaint with HR. As before, the victim should come prepared with detailed notes on the incident and a proposed resolution.
  • Seek outside help: If the company is not responding or trying to discourage the victim from speaking out, it might become necessary to seek satisfaction outside the company. There are a few federal and state agencies that will investigate and fight sexual harassment in the workplace. At the federal level, a victim can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). At the state level, the agencies are the PHRC in Pennsylvania and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within the Office of the Attorney General.
  • File a lawsuit: Once a complaint has been lodged with the state or federal government, a person can file a lawsuit against the company for the emotional impact the harassment had on them.

Employees should understand that they are limited in the amount of time they have to file a complaint. For instance, the statute of limitations for filing a complaint with the EEOC is 180 days. It is 300 days for the PHRC and two years for New Jersey.

What is the Purpose of Filing a Lawsuit?

Filing a lawsuit is the only way an employee will be able to receive the compensation they deserve to compensate for the pain and suffering that they experienced because of the harassment. It is also an opportunity to force a company to make necessary changes to prevent such behavior from happening again.

All victims are entitled to monetary compensation for their lawsuit. This includes lost wages and potential medical expenses. They may also be eligible to receive compensation for the emotional duress and pain and suffering they experienced as a result of the sexual harassment.

Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Defend All Victims from Sexual Harassment

If you are experiencing sexual harassment because of your sexual orientation, you could be eligible for compensation. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. can help you achieve the resolution that brings you justice. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey, as well as in New York.

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