The phrase “sexual harassment” made national news in 1991, when Anita Hill, a law professor, alleged that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her work supervisor at the United States Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Newscasters would explain the meaning of the term to audiences who had never heard the words “sexual harassment” before, although many of them had worked in workplaces where it took place. Later in the 90s, television commercials aired, encouraging women to stand up against sexual harassment in the workplace. Today, the phrase “sexual harassment” is part of the popular lexicon, but it is still widespread in many places of environment, and it is still illegal. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, contact the Irvine workplace sexual harassment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is not an exact synonym for sexual assault. Sexual harassment does not always involve physical contact, although it sometimes does. The following is a non-exhaustive list of manifestations of sexual harassment in the workplace:
- A coworker talking about topics of a sexual nature when the work task does not require this
- Telling sexually suggestive jokes in your presence
- Making comments about your physical appearance
- Asking inappropriately personal questions about your sexuality or romantic relationships
- Encouraging you to wear more revealing clothes at work
- A work supervisor threatening to take an adverse action against you (such as denying you a raise or writing a negative performance review) if you do not go on a date with them
- Unwanted touching
The stereotypical image of sexual harassment in the workplace is of an older man sexually harassing a younger woman, but the above actions and others similar to them are sexual harassment, regardless of the age, gender, or sexual orientation of the people at work. For example, it is sexual harassment if a woman persistently flirts with a gay male coworker even after he tells her that he is gay and is not interested in dating her. It is also sexual harassment if younger men at work make derogatory comments to an older female coworker about losing her good looks and about how she only took the job because the court would not order her ex-husband to pay alimony. No matter what form the sexual harassment takes or who the parties to it are, sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. Contact the Irvine workplace sexual harassment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to find out more about reporting sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment in an Irvine Workplace is Employment Discrimination
The laws that protect against sexual harassment in the workplace are the same laws that protect against other forms of employment discrimination. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, family status, and pregnancy, in addition to other protected characteristics such as age, race, religion, and disability. Participating in an investigation about sexual harassment in your workplace is also a protected activity, which means that it is against the law for your employer to fire you, demote you, or take some other adverse action against you in retaliation for your role in the investigation. Reporting sexual harassment is also a protected action, whether the target of the sexual harassment was you or another employee in your place of employment.
When you file a complaint about workplace sexual harassment, you should start by contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Launching an investigation with the EEOC is a prerequisite to filing a discrimination lawsuit. After you file a preliminary complaint with the EEOC, you will be assigned to an EEOC counselor, who will help you prepare your documents to start the investigation. The EEOC then has 60 days to decide whether to authorize you to move forward with a discrimination complaint. If you are considering filing a claim about sexual harassment in your workplace, the best time to contact an Irvine workplace sexual harassment lawyer is before you start communicating with the EEOC.
Sexual Harassment and the Silenced No More Act
Implicit or explicit threats and intimidation are often part of sexual harassment. The perpetrators of sexual harassment often threaten the victims with retaliation, such as terminating their employment or spreading malicious rumors to ruin their professional reputations and damage their personal relationships, if the victims complain about the harassment. In fact, for many decades and in many industries, employers have pressured employees into signing nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that prohibit them from speaking publicly about the harassment they endured at work.
California law protects workers from NDAs as a form of intimidation. In 2019, a law went into effect that prohibited employers from using NDAs that forbade former employees from disclosing sexual harassment that had occurred during their employment. Ifeoma Ozuma, who had spoken out against the racial and gender discrimination she had experienced while working at Pinterest, was confronted with a loophole in the law. Her employer argued that the NDA enabled it to require her not to disclose the racial discrimination, only the gender discrimination. Ozuma and state representative Connie Leyva then drafted the Silenced No More Act, which became law in 2021. The Silenced No More Act prohibits NDAs that stop employees from speaking out about any kind of discrimination they experienced at work, regardless of the protected characteristic on which the discrimination was based.
A workplace sexual harassment lawyer can help you document all the instances of sexual harassment you experienced at work and make a convincing case that there is a pattern of harassment at your workplace. Your lawyer can help you exercise your rights at every stage of the complaint process.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Workplace Sexual Harassment in Irvine
HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you stand up for your right to a work environment free of sexual harassment and other forms of employment discrimination. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Irvine, California to set up a consultation.