Many people have a difficult time understanding why proving a sexual harassment case in court can be hard. Part of the problem is that people confuse the common definition of sexual harassment with the legal one. Sexual harassment that happens on the street such as catcalling is not prohibited, but sexual harassment that happens in the workplace is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is also a high burden of proof that plaintiffs have to meet to prevail in their sexual harassment claims. Victims of workplace sexual harassment might want to discuss their cases with the experienced team at Swartz Swidler to learn whether or not they have sufficient grounds to file sexual harassment claims.
Sexual harassment at work
Workplace harassment may take one of two forms, including quid pro quo or hostile work environment harassment. Harassment that is quid pro quo means that a person in a position of authority such as a supervisor or hiring manager requests sexual favors in exchange for a work benefit. It can also include situations in which a supervisor demands sexual acts in exchange for the worker not suffering a negative job action. This type of harassment is prohibited even if the employee participates in the sexual activity if the initial conduct was not welcome.
Harassment that creates a work environment that is hostile happens when there is misconduct that is pervasive enough that it impacts your ability to do your job. This type of harassment can include repeated offensive jokes, inappropriate touching, pornographic displays, unwelcome sexual advances or other conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome. It is generally not enough for a single episode to have occurred.
Burden of proof in a quid pro quo case
Plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases have the burden to prove each of the elements of their claims by a preponderance of the evidence. In order to establish your quid pro quo claim of sexual harassment, you must be able to prove each of the following elements:
- You belong to a protected group;
- You were subjected to unwanted sexual requests or advances;
- The requests or advances were based on sex;
- Your agreement to the sexual act was a condition of receiving job benefits, or your refusal to engage in the sexual activity caused a job detriment; and
- Your employer was liable for the conduct of the supervisor.
Burden of proof for hostile work environment sexual harassment claims
The burden of proof for hostile work environment claims is also by a preponderance of the evidence. This type of harassment may be more difficult to prove. In order for you to establish your case, you must prove all of the following elements:
- You belong to a protected group;
- You were subjected to unwelcome harassment of a sexual nature;
- The harassment was pervasive enough to negatively impact a privilege, condition or term of your job; and
- Your employer knew or should have known that the harassment was occurring but failed to remedy the situation.
The courts use a two-step standard when they determine whether or not the harassment was pervasive enough to make your work environment hostile. The court will first consider whether or not the harassing conduct would have been considered to be offensive to a reasonable person. The court will then determine whether the misconduct was factually offensive to you.
Contact an experienced attorney
If you believe that you have been the victim of prohibited workplace sexual harassment, it is important for you to talk to an experienced employment attorney. Contact Swartz Swidler today to schedule your consultation.