Question

What should I do if I believe I have been sexually harassed either because of my gender or sexual orientation in the workplace in California?

Joel Baruch - Personal Injury - General - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Joel Baruch

Law Offices of Joel W. Baruch, P.C.
Irvine, CA
Phone: 949-864-9662
Fax: 949-851-3185

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Because of the publicity surrounding the “Me Too” movement and the easy availability of information in a technological society, one might think that sexual harassment in the workplace is the exception rather than a common occurrence. At least 50 percent of my firm’s caseload at any specific time is devoted to employment and labor law, and I am here to inform you that sexual harassment is, unfortunately, alive and flourishing in both private companies and government agency employment. 

Fortunately, due to the proliferation of news stories about public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill O’Reilly, all of whom are facing public scrutiny of their inappropriate sexual misconduct toward their employees, more sexual harassment and sexual orientation victims are reporting their offensive experiences to human resources professionals and managers in their organizations.

Contact your human resources department or manager if you have experienced sexual harassment

I encourage all my clients who believe they have been sexually harassed to officially and in writing report the sexually inappropriate words and conduct of their co-workers and supervisors to human resources or managers within their organization.

Many, if not all, private or public employers maintain an employment handbook in which employees are encouraged to report the sexually inappropriate conduct to HR or management. These employment policies customarily define “sexual harassment” and often give examples of prohibited conduct— which can range from sexual banter or jokes or more serious incidents of unwanted touching. These policies usually provide the mechanisms for how you should report the misconduct— such as making a complaint to human resources or to your supervisor; and, if the supervisor themselves is culpable of the misconduct, then the policies also explain what you should do to remedy the situation. You should be familiar with these handbook policies and, at the start of your employment, should request a copy of the handbook and familiarize yourself with the employer’s policies in every area.

With respect to less severe forms of sexual harassment that still offend you, I encourage my clients to advise the harasser first, before reporting it, that you are indeed offended by the conduct and politely advise them that it is unwanted and they should stop. Then, if it continues, use the mechanisms authorized in the employment handbook to report it.

You are protected from retaliation

Particularly with supervisor or management sexual harassment, I understand that victims are reluctant to report the misconduct out of fear of losing their job or limiting their potential for advancement. You are protected, however, since the employment handbook of your organization will also have an “anti-retaliation” provision, which means that the retaliator will be subjected to discipline, including termination.

California has one of the strongest anti-sexual harassment/anti-retaliation laws in the nation known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act. If you have reported sexual harassment, and if you have suffered retaliation because of the report, angry juries will often open up their checkbook, not only because your employer has violated the law but also because your employer has violated its own anti-retaliation policies by allowing it to happen.

You may be entitled to compensation for emotional suffering and retaliation  

Even if the sexual harassment of which you have complained and reported is not either severe or pervasive enough to constitute legal sexual harassment, nevertheless the jury will punish retaliation. Under California law, you can collect damages for loss of income and emotional suffering, and your attorney will upon a successful result be awarded their attorney’s fees and costs in bringing the case to a conclusion. Also, as to private employers only, prejudgment interest and punitive damages are also available based on their net worth.

My firm has successfully represented scores of clients in the Southern California area for over 30 years in sexual harassment and/or retaliation cases. Many people are pleased by their experiences with attorneys in this area of law because we can provide the monetary compensation needed to overcome a challenging time.

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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