Sexual harassment is an ongoing problem for both men and women in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It is recognized as a form of sex discrimination under the Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Across the U.S., sexually harassing people at work, in housing decisions or in educational institutions is against the law. If you have been sexually harassed, an attorney at Swartz Swidler may be able to help you.
Facts about sexual harassment and statistics about sexual harassment and assaults
Sexual harassment may include a variety of unwanted behaviors. Here are some facts about sexual harassment and what it may include:
- Catcalls and wolf whistles
- Sexual inuendos
- Unwanted touching of a sexual nature
- Pressure for dates or sexual favors
- Graphic descriptions of pornography
- Lewd, threatening letters, texts or emails
- Grabbing genitals or breasts
- Displaying porn in the workplace
- Indecent exposures
- Sexual assaults
The most severe form of sexual harassment, a sexual assault is especially troubling. A common misconception about sexual harassment and assault is that only women are victims. While statistics about sexual harassment demonstrate that nine out of 10 victims of sexual assaults are women, 2.78 million men have been the victims of rape or sexual assaults in their lifetimes as well. Only 39 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police, and of those, only 16.3 percent of the rapists will spend any time in prison. When civil lawsuits are filed, the burdens of proof are lower than what is required of the prosecutors to prove in corollary criminal cases, meaning that sexual harassment civil lawsuits may provide recourse even when remedies may not be had in any corresponding criminal cases against the perpetrators.
Sexual harassment in the workplace
When a person is sexually harassed while working on the job, the act is prohibited under federal and state law. Common forms of prohibited workplace sexual harassment include the following:
- Direct, unwanted sexual advantages
- Offering promotions based on sexual favors
- Threatening negative job actions unless the victim performs sexually
- Sexual joking, remarks and putdowns to the point that the workplace is a hostile environment
- Intimidating employees based on their sex, sexual orientation or sexual identity in order to jeopardize their employment statuses
The National Council for Research on Women reports that women have a nine times higher likelihood of quitting their jobs because of sexual harassment and are three more times likelier to lose their jobs because of it. Women are especially likely to encounter workplace sexual harassment when they are employed in traditionally male occupations, such as the military, police work or construction. Sexual harassment victims are able to file claims even if he or she has given into the sexual demands because he or she is afraid of being fired or of retaliation.
In Pennsylvania and in New Jersey, employers are responsible for taking steps to prevent sexual harassment and correcting it if it occurs. They also must protect their workers from harassment by certain third parties such as customers, suppliers and vendors. If an employer knows that sexual harassment is occurring between coworkers and took no action to stop it, they may be liable to the victim. In addition to having a sexual harassment grievance procedure in place, an employer has a duty to investigate complaints and stop the harassment when they learn it is happening.
All employees should receive copies of a company’s sexual harassment policy. It should provide clear steps for reporting and encourage witnesses and victims to speak up. It should also clearly state that retaliation for reporting sexual harassment will not be tolerated.
Stopping sexual harassment
The first step that a victim of workplace sexual harassment should take is to confront the harasser and tell them it is inappropriate and unwanted. In some cases, a person may not realize that his or her conduct is inappropriate, and speaking up may be enough. If that does not work, the victim should next file a formal internal complaint according to his or her company’s grievance procedure. If there is no such policy in place, he or she should report the conduct to his or her manager in writing. If the manager is the offender, then the victim should report the conduct to the manager’s boss.
It is very important to thoroughly document all incidents of harassment, including the dates, times, what occurred and the names of witnesses and the perpetrator. If a harasser sends text messages, letters or emails, copies should be kept for use as evidence if a complaint or charge may later be filed. People should also keep copies of their written internal complaints as well as any corrective action or retaliatory action their employers may take in response.
If your company’s internal complaint procedure results in no action, it is important for you to consult with an experienced employment lawyer at the law firm of Swartz Swidler. Attorneys may help you with filing your charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. You must file a discrimination charge with your federal or state agency before you can file a formal lawsuit in court. It is important for you to act quickly because you may have as little as 180 days to file a charge after the harassment or retaliation has occurred.
When you file a charge with the EEOC or the corresponding state agency, it will investigate your claim. If the agency decides to pursue it, it may then pursue remedies on your behalf such as trying to settle the claim for you with your employer. The agency may also issue you a right-to-sue letter if it chooses not to take your case, allowing you to file a lawsuit in state or federal court against your employer. If the agency’s investigation instead finds that you have not been harassed, you are allowed to appeal the finding. The investigation by the EEOC may take more than a year. You are allowed to skip it by requesting that it issues you a right-to-sue letter, but you must file a charge of discrimination with the agency before you can proceed with your lawsuit.
Civil and criminal remedies
Civil sexual harassment cases may offer a variety of damages, including the following:
- Lost wages and benefits
- Future lost earnings if the victim does not choose reinstatement
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
- Injunctive relief
- Compensatory and punitive damages
Civil cases against the harasser and the company may proceed at the same time as any criminal actions when the conduct crossed the line into criminality. Since the burden of proof is easier to meet in civil cases than in criminal ones, you may be likelier to hold the abuser accountable in civil cases than in criminal proceedings even if he or she has his or her criminal case dismissed or is found not guilty after a trial.
Sexual harassment in educational settings
Sexual harassment is also prohibited at schools under Title IX of the 1972 Education Act. It applies to colleges, universities and schools that receive any federal funding and allows the U.S. Department of Education to investigate and prosecute complaints. Under the act, people in positions of authority, including teachers, administrators and others, are prohibited from sexually harassing students.
What to do if you are harassed at school
If you are harassed at school, report it to the principal or the vice-principal, if possible. Students in universities should review their student handbooks and follow the grievance procedures provided by them. If it does not help, you should report the sexual harassment to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. An attorney may help you with filing your complaint. Criminal conduct should also be reported to the police.
If you have experienced sexual harassment at your job or at your school, it is possible for you to seek remedies. An attorney at Swartz Swidler may review what has happened and advise you about whether you have a strong case. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.