Can I Sue My Employer For Sexual Harassment By A Coworker In New York?

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Silvia Stanciu

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Silvia Stanciu

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Silvia Stanciu - Employment Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Silvia Stanciu

New York, NY
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Yes. However, there are some steps you must take first. 

Sexual harassment of any kind is completely unacceptable in the workplace. More than that, it’s illegal. Thanks to robust federal, state, and city laws, you do not have to put up with harassment as a condition of your employment. While many people have sued coworkers who have harassed them, some people have brought lawsuits against their employers as well. Doing so requires making an internal complaint about the sexual harassment within the company, proceeding to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the harassment continues, and finally filing a lawsuit in federal court.  

What Sexual Harassment Is 

From a legal perspective, sexual harassment is any kind of unwelcome sexual attention from a coworker or supervisor. The two main kinds of sexual harassment are: 

  • Quid Pro Quo
    This Latin phrase literally means “this for that.” This kind of sexual harassment is transactional. If you agree to perform sexual favors for a boss, for instance, you may receive a promotion or a raise. When professional employment decisions are made based on your willingness (or unwillingness) to engage in sexual conduct with a coworker, that counts as quid pro quo.
  • Hostile Work Environment
    This is a more general form of sexual harassment. This is when unwanted sexual comments or behavior interfere with your ability to perform your job. Under the federal standard, the conduct must be severe or pervasive to rise to a hostile work environment. 

Many people are unsure if the behavior they have experienced counts as sexual harassment. Some examples include: 

  • Unwanted touching
  • Repeated comments about your body, appearance, or sexuality
  • Sexually suggestive messages, texts, emails or pictures
  • Unwanted requests for sexual favors
  • Exposure to pornography in the workplace
  • Altered work duties after denying a sexual request 

It is important to note that anti-harassment laws apply regardless of the sex, gender and sexual orientation of the parties involved. Anyone can be a harasser, and anyone can be harassed, regardless of common stereotypes.

Before Filing A Lawsuit 

Depending on your situation, you may feel the urge to sue your employer immediately because of what your coworker did. However, you must follow a particular path before federal courts will allow you to file a lawsuit. Companies are only liable for sexual harassment that they knew about and did not remedy. Consequently, you must first: 

  • Lodge an Internal Complaint
    By raising an internal sexual harassment complaint to your employer, you have officially notified them of what is going on. At that point, they have a legal obligation to address your coworker’s behavior. While many companies have poor track records when it comes to addressing sexual harassment, you must give them a chance to do so. Employee handbooks often outline the exact steps you should take when making a sexual harassment complaint. Follow these guidelines assiduously and document every step along the way.
  • Contact the EEOC
    If your employer is unable to stop the harassment, your next step is to file an administrative charge with the EEOC. These federal officials are tasked with enforcing anti-harassment laws all over the country. Consulting with an attorney before approaching the EEOC is wise.

    After reviewing your case, they will contact your employer and investigate the charges. The EEOC may request that you and your employer undergo mediation, or they may take some other action. However, you cannot legally sue your employer in federal court until the EEOC has processed your claim and given you a “right to sue” letter. 

If none of these steps bring an immediate halt to the sexual harassment you are experiencing, a lawsuit might be in your best interest. At this point, advice from a seasoned attorney is a requirement. The attorney can review the overall strength of your case, determine whether additional evidence should be gathered, and recommend a course of action. 

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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