Workplace Sexual Harassment in California: Lawsuit Fundamentals for Victims – Part 1

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (10/16/15) – If you’ve been sexually harassed at your workplace, unfortunately, you are in good company. One in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work.

The incidents of men being sexually harassed are also exponentially growing. In 2010, men made up 16.2% of sexual harassment complaints. In 2014, complaints by men increased to 17.5% of all sexual harassment claims.

The good news is that in California, there are more resources available for sexual harassment victims than in many other states. For example, a victim can go through the Federal route via the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (“EEOC”) which is available to all states, or utilize California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) laws. A California attorney specializing in employment law with an emphasis on workplace sexual harassment is absolutely essential to navigating these types of claims and helping you to decide on the best route to take.

Here are some tips on how to decide if you have a potential case and how to document it if you think you do. It’s important to prepare for litigation in case it ends up being your last recourse when all attempts to stop the sexual harassment have failed. An attorney who regularly handles sexual harassment cases in the workplace is the best judge of all, so do not hesitate to contact an employment lawyer with experience suing for sexual harassment at any point in the process for a consultation and some unbiased advice about how to proceed.

So what do you do if you are one of the unlucky ones being victimized and want it to stop, preferably without changing jobs to do so? Even if you are at first unsure if what you are experiencing is sexual harassment or you don’t think it will ever come down to suing, you should still take these steps to ensure a solid case if you have to sue. Most people would rather not sue, but sometimes it is the only practical solution when all else has failed.

If you experience unwanted sexual behavior from a supervisor, colleague or client, be on the alert in case they repeat or escalate their behavior. Also note, sexual harassment is not constrained to the most common demographic, male on female. Men can and are victimized as well. Same sex sexual harassment in the workplace also occurs.

If the offending person does not repeat his/her behavior, then it generally won’t legally be considered sexual harassment, but rather a one time error in good judgment. However, if the behavior is repeated, escalates and/or branches out to include more and different methods of sexual harassment, the first thing the victim should do is start documenting the incidents and include the following information:

  1. Offender’s Name
  2. Date and Time (dates are especially important because there are deadlines for filing a lawsuit)
  3. Where it Took Place
  4. Verbal (examples include sexually graphic comments, be it spoken directly or left on voicemail)
  5. Physical (examples include touching, crowding, etc.)
  6. Written (examples include sexually explicit notes and drawings. These can be communicated by the offender on a piece of paper, telephone or computer screen, and via text messages, emails and posts to social media)
  7. Visual (staring inappropriately, etc.)
  8. What the Offender’s Intent Came Across As:
  • Sexual advances
  • To offer something of value (promotions, raises, etc.) in exchange for sexual acts
  • To threaten negative consequences if sexual demands are not met, such as firing, demotion, etc.
  • To attempt to dominate and cause fear and shame in the victim (for example, using sexually degrading and/or sexually violent graphic terms directed at the victim)

It is also important to your case to tell the offender to STOP. Make it clear that their behavior is unwanted and offensive. Offenders often try and defend themselves by saying things like, “I thought s/he liked it, s/he never told me to stop. How was I to know?” Derail that by telling them to stop and documenting every instance of doing so.

Now that you have a history of what has been happening, you are supposed to give your employer a chance to remedy the situation before suing. This is a whole other issue, fraught with its own pitfalls, and here is another area where the advice of an experienced California sexual harassment employment lawyer is indispensable. Here is Part 2 of this series.

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