Can I Sue My Employer for Sexual Harassment in California?

Brent S. Buchsbaum - Employment Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Brent S. Buchsbaum

Carlin & Buchsbaum LLP
Long Beach, CA
Phone: 562-432-8933
Fax: 562-435-1656

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In California, no employee has to tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Housing and Employment Act. Those who have experienced sexual harassment have the right to seek justice, compensation and other remedies. 

What is Sexual Harassment?

The phrase “sexual harassment” encompasses a wide range of actions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as: 

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” 

As this definition indicates, there are two broad categories of sexual harassment: 

Quid pro quo – The demand by a supervisor or someone in authority for sexual favors in exchange for a job, continued employment, a promotion or benefits. 

Hostile work environment – When conduct of a sexual nature is unwelcome, severe or pervasive, or when the conduct results in an adverse employment decision, the employer can be found to have created an abusive working environment. In this case, the harasser can be a supervisor, fellow employee or someone who is not an employee, such as a customer, supplier or contractor. 

Generally speaking, a single comment or incident would not be considered sexual harassment. But if the conduct is severe in nature, it could meet the definition of sexual harassment. Perpetrators and victims of sexual harassment can be women or men and can be the same gender. The offensive behavior does not even have to be directed against a particular individual. For example, if an employee makes disparaging comments about women or LGBT people, it could constitute sexual harassment. 

What Might I Be Able to Obtain? 

The process begins by filing a complaint with the EEOC or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Once an agency issues a Right to Sue Notice, you can file a lawsuit with the help of an attorney. If you win your lawsuit or reach a negotiated or mediated settlement with your employer, you may be eligible for: 

  • Back pay
  • Lost benefits
  • Damages for emotional distress
  • Attorney fees and court costs
  • Reinstatement 

Our law firm, Carlin & Buchsbaum, LLP, welcomes inquiries from employees who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace. Give us a call if you have questions about your legal options.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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