If you watch a movie that came out before you were born and includes scenes set at a workplace, be it an office, a restaurant, or any other place of employment, you will probably notice all kinds of flirtatious and downright creepy behavior directed toward female employees by male coworkers and customers. Ask your parents if this happened in real life, and they will confirm that it did. This kind of behavior still happens, and now it has a name — sexual harassment. The term gained currency in the 1990s when several major political figures faced accusations of sexual harassment by women who had worked for them. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex, gender presentation, gender identity, or sexual orientation; federal and state law protect workers from sexual harassment and other forms of employment discrimination. If you have experienced sexual harassment in your workplace, contact the Minneapolis sexual harassment lawyer at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP.
The Many Manifestations of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can take many forms. The law defines sexual harassment as persistent and pervasive unwanted verbal and non-verbal actions of drawing attention to the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, or sexuality. The following are just some of the possible manifestations of sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Offering the employee a reward or incentive, job-related or otherwise, in exchange for sexual attention or sexual favors
- Threatening the employee with adverse actions such as negative performance reviews or termination of employment if the employee does not do something of a sexual nature that the aggressor requests (such as wearing revealing clothes or going on a date with the aggressor) or if the employee complains to human resources about the aggressor’s advances
- Repeated insults, derogatory remarks, or offensive jokes about the employ’s sex, gender presentation, relationship status, physical appearance, or sexual orientation
- Unwanted or forced touching
- Unwanted attention in the form of conversation at work or phone calls, text messages, or emails during or outside of work hours
Unfortunately, sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment often escalate after the employee complains about them. Demonstrating that the aggressor continued to harass you even after you clearly told them that it bothered you or that you complained to a supervisor or human resources employee about it is important if you decide to file a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit.
Federal and State Laws Protecting Workers From Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination
Federal and state law both protect employees from sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace. The relevant federal law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the relevant state law is the Minnesota Human Rights Act. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, and gender presentation, as well as other protected characteristics such as race, religion, age, and disability. Minnesota law also includes public assistance and participation in human rights organizations as protected categories.
Federal law protects workers who complain about discrimination from retaliation in the form of negative performance reviews and references, unjust termination of employment, denial of raises, and false accusations filed in civil or criminal court. State law also protects against these types of retaliation, but it also includes participation in discrimination investigations and human rights investigations as activities for which workers are protected from retaliation by their employers.
Rasmussen v. Two Harbors Fish Co. (2012), A Minnesota Supreme Court Case About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
In 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on Rasmussen v. Two Harbors Fish Co., a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit. Three women who worked for a motel experienced repeated incidents of sexual harassment by the owner. The harassment included asking the employees intrusive questions about their sexuality, talking about his own sexual desires, bringing pornographic material to the workplace, commenting about the women’s bodies, and unwanted touching. The women quit working for the motel when the owner’s behavior became unbearable; in other words, the owner’s unwanted sexual advances and comments created a hostile work environment for the plaintiffs. The lower court ruled in favor of the motel owner; it reasoned that, even if the women’s claims were true, these incidents did not amount to a pervasively hostile work environment. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the law clearly defines a hostile work environment (the incidents happen multiple times, are upsetting enough to interfere with the employee’s ability to do their job, and continue even after the employee verbally objects to them), and the conduct experienced by the plaintiffs in Rasmussen clearly fit the definition.
What to Do if You Witness Sexual Harassment in Your Workplace
If you experience sexual harassment at work, whether the target is you or one of your coworkers, the law will protect you if you speak out against it. The first step is to discuss the matter with the human resources office at your company or, in the case of federal workers, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These discussions may lead to the filing of a formal complaint, or even of a workplace discrimination lawsuit. The best time to contact a lawyer is before you even email human resources, but if you have already contacted them or filed a complaint, then now is an ideal time to get a lawyer involved. Federal law will protect you from retaliation by your employer if you file a sexual harassment complaint. Minnesota law will also protect you from retaliation if you assist in the investigation into the harassment of another employee in your workplace.
Contact a Minneapolis Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Sexual harassment in the workplace may be common, but it is still unacceptable and illegal. Contact the Minneapolis sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP to set up a consultation.