Workplace discrimination based on a worker’s protected characteristics is illegal under federal law. Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of unlawful sex discrimination and is prohibited in the workplace. The agency that enforces the federal anti-discrimination laws is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Workers who pursue discrimination claims against their employers must start the process by filing discrimination charges with the EEOC. The employment law attorneys at Swartz Swidler can assist sexual harassment victims with understanding their rights and holding their employers accountable for their wrongful actions.
When are harassment and discrimination prohibited in the employment relationship?
Workplace harassment and discrimination are illegal when they are based on the following protected characteristics:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- National origin
- Genetic information
Sexual harassment is recognized as a type of discrimination based on sex. Employers that have 15 or more employees are covered under most of the federal anti-discrimination laws that the EEOC enforces with the exception of age. Age discrimination is unlawful when it is based on a worker’s age over 40, and that law applies to employers with 20 or more employees. The anti-discrimination laws cover all aspects of the employment relationship, including recruiting, interviewing, hiring, promotions, training, salary, bonuses, benefits, wages, and terminations.
What is the EEOC’s role?
The EEOC is authorized to investigate discrimination charges against covered employers. The agency assesses allegations that have been made in the discrimination charge. After it completes its investigation, it will make a finding. If the agency finds that discrimination or harassment has occurred, it will try to negotiate a settlement. If the EEOC cannot negotiate a settlement, it may either give the worker notice of his or her right to file a lawsuit or file a lawsuit against the employer on the worker’s behalf. Before the EEOC will decide to file a lawsuit, it will first consider the issues, the strength of the evidence, and the impact that the lawsuit could have on the agency’s mission to end workplace discrimination.
The EEOC also tries to prevent workplace discrimination through technical assistance, education, and outreach programs. It also provides guidance and leadership to federal agencies to ensure that they comply with federal regulations. It also assists administrative judges who hold hearings on EEO complaints and handles appeals from administrative decisions by federal agencies.
What is sexual harassment?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual harassment as a type of discrimination based on sex. This law prohibits workplace discrimination based on a worker’s protected characteristics and applies to employers that have 15 or more employees. It also covers labor organizations, employment agencies, state governments, local governments, and the federal government.
There are two types of sexual harassment. Hostile working environment harassment occurs when the sexually harassing conduct is severe and pervasive enough that it creates a hostile environment at work that makes it impossible for the victim to perform his or her job. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when someone in a position of power makes job benefits or a potential adverse action contingent on the victim giving into sexual advances.
Acts of sexual harassment might include any of the following types of conduct:
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Offensive jokes of a sexual nature
- Pornographic displays
- Unwanted touching
- Harassing emails, calls, or text messages
The victim of sexual harassment can either be a man or woman. Sexual harassment can also occur between members of the same sex. The harasser may be a supervisor, co-worker, the employer’s agent, or a customer. Anyone who is affected by the conduct can be a victim even if he or she is not the target. Finally, the conduct must be unwelcome.
How to handle sexual harassment
The victim should start by telling the harasser that his or her conduct is unwelcome and should stop. If that does not work, the victim should file an internal, written complaint under the company’s complaint system. If the company fails to investigate the complaint or to take corrective action, the next step is to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC. The victim should submit as much evidence as possible in support of his or her allegations, including the names and contact information of any witnesses, the times and dates of the incidents, text messages, emails, a copy of the internal complaint, and any other documentation that he or she may have compiled.
The EEOC will review the entire record when it investigates sexual harassment allegations. It will analyze the conduct and the context in which it occurred. Determinations are based on the facts of each case.
It is illegal for employers to retaliate against workers for complaining about sexual harassment or for opposing workplace practices that discriminate against workers based on sex. Employers may also not retaliate against workers for participating in an investigation or for filing a discrimination lawsuit.
Even if a discrimination and harassment complaint is unsuccessful, an employer is still not allowed to retaliate against the worker who filed the complaint. If the employer retaliates against the employee for exercising his or her rights, the employee may have grounds to file a separate retaliation case against the employer.
Get help from the experienced discrimination attorneys at Swartz Swidler
Even though sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, it continues to occur in many workplaces in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. If you have been the victim of unlawful sexual harassment at your job, you should talk to the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler. We can evaluate the facts and circumstances of your case and explain the types of evidence you should gather. We can also help you to file your discrimination charge with the EEOC. Contact us today to request a free case evaluation by calling us at (856) 685-7420.