Sexual Harassment by a Supervisor
A supervisor holds significant power and influence over their employees. They can influence the amount of work a person has or determine the type of environment employees work in. They can make it open and collaborative or divisive and cutthroat. Supervisors can make an employee extremely uncomfortable if they are subject to that supervisor’s inappropriate sexual advances.
Sexual harassment of anyone, especially in the workplace, is wrong and can cause a variety of adverse effects for a person. It can impact an employee’s mental state, which could influence their health. Outside of the mental and physical anguish it can cause, the result could be less productivity from the impacted workers as well as an uncomfortable work environment for all those involved.
Employees who are being sexually harassed by a supervisor do not have to tolerate this behavior. It is illegal and should be reported to the company or to an outside government agency. Those who are unsure of what steps to take should contact a sexual harassment lawyer who is experienced in this area of law. A skilled attorney will examine the details of the case and let one know how best to proceed.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is the act of harassing a person based on their sex. Harassment from a supervisor can come in a variety of forms and range from physical touching to verbal abuse. It also includes sly off-color comments. Generally, the law breaks sexual harassment down into two categories:
Hostile work environment: When harassment takes place over an extended period, it can constitute a hostile work environment. The legal definition of such a scenario is met when the victim feels intimidated, or the action of the supervisor prohibits the person from performing their job fully.
Quid pro quo: Under this version, a manager urges an employee to perform sexual favors for them in exchange for benefits at work, such as a promotion, extra pay, or time off work.
In addition, to meet the legal definition of sexual harassment, an action must be pervasive or severe. A one-time incident is not enough to qualify, as it could be easily misunderstood or corrected.
What are Examples of Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is not confined to just an inappropriate comment to a coworker. There is a wide variety of actions that can constitute sexual harassment. They include the following:
- Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with coworkers
- Sending suggestive letters, notes, or emails
- Displaying inappropriate sexual images or posters in the workplace
- Telling lewd jokes or sharing sexual anecdotes
- Making inappropriate sexual gestures
- Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling
- Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts
- Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person
- Asking sexual questions, such as questions about someone’s sexual history or their sexual orientation
- Making offensive comments about someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity
The above list is not all inclusive. Regardless, when a supervisor creates a situation that makes for a sexually hostile environment, this is considered sexual harassment in the workplace.
What are Real-Life Examples of Sexual Harassment?
The number of sexual harassment cases being reporting has risen significantly over the past 30 years as victims have grown more confident to come forward to report problems at work. Over the years, there have been several cases of employees reporting a variety of sexual harassment incidents at work. Among the more high-profile cases are these examples:
- Mitsubishi Motors Manufacturing: In 1988, numerous women complained about how they were mistreated working at a plant in Normal, Illinois. The men allegedly would routinely fondle the female employees and subject them to verbal abuse along with obscene jokes, behavior, and graffiti. One person allegedly discharged an air gun between a woman’s legs. Many women quit as a result. Mitsubishi agreed to pay $34 million to the female workers at the plant where the incident allegedly took place.
- Female police officer v. chief of police and police department: A female officer joined the force and faced harassment from a colleague. After changing her shift to avoid him, the harassment continued. She then filed a complaint with the chief of police, which forced numerous other female officers to step forward and complain. The harasser then resigned, but the issue was not over because the victim became subject to retaliation by her supervisors, who began to criticize her work and claim she might not be cut out to be a police officer. She was eventually fired and forced to hand in her badge and gun, which was her personal property. She settled the case in District Court.
- Arrick v. power company: In 2018, Yvonne Arrick began working at a power company in a clerical position. However, as a former law enforcement officer, she was determined to work herself up into a field engineer position. After two years, Arrick accomplished her goal; however, her supervisor did not believe that women should occupy the field engineer position. The supervisor treated her poorly, held her to different standards, and put roadblocks in her way to a second promotion. Arrick filed multiple complaints about the supervisor, and the final straw was when her supervisor sent her to a job site to deal with a dispute with a contractor who had a violent and ferocious temper. Arrick quit the next day, realizing that her supervisor was willing to put her in harm’s way to get rid of her. The case was settled for a confidential amount.
What Sexual Harassment Myths are Untrue?
There are numerous myths and stereotypes that surround sexual harassment that make it difficult for certain victims to come forward or be taken seriously when they do attempt to report it. All true victims of sexual harassment require support and protection. Among the common myths or misconceptions pertaining to sexual harassment include the following:
Only women can be harassed: This is not true. No matter the sex of a person, courts have ruled that anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment.
One cannot be harassed by someone of the same sex: Even if a harasser is of the same sex as the victim, it does not negate the act itself. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sexual harassment can occur between two people of the same sex.
Sexual harassment only takes place at work: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that harassment can occur in schools as well with teachers, professors, and other individuals with authority taking the place of managers over students instead of employees. These cases fall under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 as opposed to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Only people with authority can sexually harass: A harasser need not have authority over their victim. It can be brought about by a coworker or a third party such as an agent or client of the employer.
Regardless of the type of sexual harassment a person suffers, they should report the incident immediately. If they do not know what they should do, a victim should reach out to a sexual harassment lawyer who can help provide valuable advice.
What Happens if My Manager Retaliates Against Me?
Retaliation from a manager is also considered sexual harassment. If an employee denies the advances of a manager no matter how innocent they could be, that manager cannot retaliate against the person.
It is still sexual harassment if a manager’s action results in a negative employment action such as the following:
- Wrongful termination
- Failure to promote
- Failure to hire
- Loss of wages
A manager can be held legally accountable if they took a negative action against an employee who thwarted their advances. In other words, a manager cannot legally fire an employee if the worker refused to engage in sexual activity with them.
What can I Do if I am Sexually Harassed at Work?
The motivation for a harasser is to exert control over their victims. However, according to the laws of the United States, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, any form of sexual harassment is illegal, meaning victims have the right to fight back.
First, victims should always document any incidents that are taking place. The notes should include details about what happened, when it happened, and how all parties responded.
Normally, the first step is confronting the harasser. However, when it is a manager, that might be difficult for the victim. In those instances, a victim should go to their manager’s supervisor to report the behavior. When taking this step, the best option is to submit a letter detailing the problems and request a specific solution. Submitting the complaint in writing will create a paper trail should a legal case occur. Also, the victim needs to keep a copy of the letter.
If there is no resolution to the situation, a victim may wish to report the incident to their human resources department in a similar fashion as to the supervisor. If the company fails to resolve the issue or it retaliates against the victim, it also becomes liable for the sexual harassment.
If all these other channels fail, it might be time to file a lawsuit or a complaint with a government agency. There are a few options available, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within the Office of the Attorney General.
What Damages can a Sexual Harassment Victim Receive?
When a victim faces persistent sexual harassment from a manager and the company has failed to adequately respond to the situation, or the victim lost their job because they rejected the advances of their manager, a lawsuit is a viable option. Filing a lawsuit under these circumstances can lead to receiving compensation for the ordeal or the potential of having a person’s job, title, or standing reinstated. A victim can also seek changes at the company level. Among the relief a victim can ask for includes the following damages:
- Lost wages: A victim might have been fired for failing to comply with the sexual demand, meaning they lost out on wages they would have otherwise earned.
- Medical expenses: The anxiety and stress associated with what is going on at work could cause physical and mental problems that require medical attention. A lawsuit can seek reimbursement for those expenses.
- Emotional distress: The trauma of dealing with a person pushing the victim to perform services they are not comfortable doing can lead to emotional problems that require treatment.
- Pain and suffering: That mental trauma can lead to physical ailments, for which the victim is entitled to compensation.
- Reinstatement: If the victim was terminated in retaliation for not agreeing to go along with the harasser’s demands or a promotion was blocked, the employee can seek to have those advancements reinstated.
- Non-monetary requests: A person can request that changes be made at the company to prevent future situations from arising. They can request that the company adopt a policy to address sexual harassment in the future or other changes that will protect workers going forward.
How can a Manager Avoid a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
The easiest way to avoid a lawsuit is to not have the problem in the first place. A manager is responsible for the environment in which their employees work. They must be on top of all conflicts among coworkers and make sure that everyone is treating each other fairly and appropriately. If sexual harassment is occurring, managers must act decisively and properly to fix the situation.
A supervisor can mitigate any problems as long as they can prove that they reasonably attempted to prevent and correct any type of harassing behavior that was going on. They must also prove that the victim failed to use the preventive or corrective options that the company had made available.
In addition, a supervisor must have direct contact or knowledge about an incident taking place. The New Jersey Supreme Court expanded the definition of supervisor to include those who have authority by the employer to make tangible employment decisions and those who are placed in charge of a victimized employee’s day-to-day activities.
Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Stand for You When Your Employer Has Failed
Facing persistent sexual harassment from a supervisor or having lost your job because you refused your boss’ sexual advances can be demoralizing and frustrating. It is also illegal. You have rights as an employee, and no other person can force you into a situation regardless of their position. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will help you file a claim against your manager and company to ensure you receive the relief you deserve. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our offices are located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, and we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey.