Any thorough discussion of employment discrimination includes discussion of sexual harassment. Federal employment discrimination laws explicitly forbid discrimination based on sex, gender identity, gender presentation, or sexual orientation, and harassment, also known as hostile work environment, is a form of discrimination. Likewise, sexual harassment in the workplace often involves the aggressor retaliating against the victim for refusing the aggressor’s sexual advances; this type of retaliation is a classic example of employment discrimination. If you are facing sexual harassment in the workplace, or any other type of hostile work environment, contact the Alabama workplace sexual harassment lawyers at HKM Employment Lawyers LLP.
Myth: Sexual Harassment Only Happens to Women
The phrase “sexual harassment” first entered the popular lexicon in the 1990s, when several politicians faced accusations of sexual harassment by former co-workers of theirs. In these cases, the accused were men who had been in positions of leadership at their jobs, and the accusers were younger women they had supervised. In some cases, the women had complained about the harassment through official complaint procedures, but in other cases, they had stayed silent for fear of retaliation.
In the past several years, the subject of sexual harassment has frequently made news headlines, with exposes appearing on news sites about how widespread workplace sexual harassment is in many industries. The familiar narrative of older, wealthier men harassing younger women with genuine need for the money they earn in the harassment-ridden workplace still occurs, but now it is clear that workplace sexual harassment can happen to anyone. The aggressors can be of any gender or sexual orientation, and so can the victims. In fact, several years ago, a Ph.D. student in his 30s sued a professor in her 60s for sexual harassment; in this case, he is a gay man, and she is a lesbian.
Myth: Everyone Calls You “Sweetie” in Alabama, and it is Never Harassment
Hostile work environment is one of the hardest types of discriminatory actions to prove in court. It is easy to prove that an employer fired you on a certain date, but it is less easy to prove that your employer frequently stares at you long enough to make you uncomfortable. (It is not impossible to prove the latter situation, though, especially if it is obvious enough that other co-workers notice it.) Work supervisors accused of sexual harassment often argue that they were just being friendly and did not mean to make the victim feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Yes, people in Alabama often call people with whom they are not especially close by terms of endearment; whether treating someone in a more familiar manner than the situation requires is inappropriate depends on context. It is possible to be friends with a coworker, but friendship is reciprocal. If your co-worker’s or work supervisor’s overly friendly treatment of you is unwanted, especially if you have said that it is, then it might be sexual harassment.
Myth: Sexual Harassment is Not Gender Discrimination
Gender discrimination includes a lot more than just not hiring women, or paying women employees less than men with similar job duties and employment history. According to federal employment laws, harassment on the basis of a protected characteristic such as gender is included under the definition of employment discrimination. This means that you can pursue sexual harassment complaints the same way that you would any other kind of discrimination complaint. If you are a federal employee, the place to start is by filing an informal pre-complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) no more than 45 days after the incident of harassment.
Myth: It is Only Sexual Harassment if Your Boss Touches You or Physically Assaults You
Unwanted touching is definitely a form of sexual harassment, and some sexual harassment complaints do include allegations of sexual assault, but do not assume that just because you have not been subjected to non-consensual touching, your sexual harassment claim does not have merit. Sexually suggestive comments, made in person or by phone, text, or email count as sexual harassment, whether they took place in one-on-one interactions or in the presence of other co-workers. Likewise, the harassment does not even have to consist of comments that are specifically about you. If your boss frequently makes derogatory jokes about women, and he does this often enough that it is disruptive to your ability to do your job successfully, it is sexual harassment.
If the harassment includes non-consensual touching or sex acts, then being accused of sexual harassment in a civil complaint should be the least of the aggressor’s worries. You can also press criminal charges for sexual assault or sexual battery.
Myth: The Only Way to Stop Sexual Harassment is to Press Criminal Charges
If the sexual harassment fits the definition of stalking, sexual assault, or some other crime, you have the right to press criminal charges, as well as to file a sexual harassment lawsuit in civil court. The two court cases are independent of each other. In criminal court, a defendant cannot be convicted unless they plead guilty or unless the jury finds them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas the standards of evidence are much lower in civil court, because no one goes to prison if a judge rules against them in a civil case. Therefore, you can win your sexual harassment lawsuit against a co-worker or work supervisor, even if that person is acquitted in criminal court.
Myth: You Have Nothing to Gain by Filing a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
To say that filing a sexual harassment lawsuit takes courage and hard work is an understatement. The reward is more than just knowing that you told the truth, though. The court can order your former employer to pay you compensation for the financial losses you suffered because of the harassment; it can also award you non-economic damages for emotional distress.
Contact an Alabama Employment Lawyer About Workplace Sexual Harassment
An Alabama employment lawyer can help you take a stand against sexual harassment in your workplace. Contact the Alabama employment discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.