Recognizing and Responding to Workplace Sexual Harassment

The #MeToo movement has altered the way many people, including many jurors, look at sexual harassment. Conduct once considered acceptable, or at least borderline acceptable, is now clearly wrong. The numbers reflect this attitude. According to a recent survey, 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment at some point. 

As outline below, workplace sexual harassment takes many forms. All of them violate federal law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is supposed to prosecute violators. But unless the case is a “slam dunk” and involves eye-popping financial damages, the EEOC normally refuses to pursue these actions.

So, as is often the case, it’s usually up to a Kansas City employment law attorney to protect worker rights. 

Types of Sexual Harassment

The basic definition of sexual harassment is any behavior of a sexual nature which makes the victim uncomfortable. Legally, sexual harassment usually takes one of three forms in Kansas City workplaces:

  • Quid Pro Quo: In the movies, it is romantic when the shy boss asks the pretty intern for a date. In the real world, this conduct is patently unlawful, especially if the date includes any preferential treatment. That preferential treatment could be something relatively minor, like a new keyboard or an out-of-town business trip.
  • Hostile Environment: Offensive computer wallpaper and coarse jokes are offensive. But unless the environment is so toxic that the victim cannot effectively do his/her job, the environment is probably not “hostile.”
  • Retaliation: Much like a quid pro quo, retaliation can take many forms. In addition to firing or refusing to hire certain people, many employers sideline employees or discipline them unfairly.

Retaliation is the most common sexual harassment claim. Frequently, retaliation has nothing to do with the sexual harassment itself. Rather, retaliation focuses on a company’s illegal response to protected activity. This activity includes reporting sexual harassment, serving as a witness in an investigation, and encouraging someone else to report sexual harassment.

Your Claim for Damages

In all sexual harassment cases, victim/plainitffs must establish a prima facie case. Illegal activity probably occurred if the victim/plaintiff was a member of a protected class and suffered adverse action. That adverse action could be almost anything.

In response, employers can claim there was a neutral reason for the adverse action. For example, in a sexual harassment case, the employer might argue that a poor work record, and not a sexual harassment report, lead to the vcitim/plaintiff’s termination.

Generally, the supposed “neutral reason” is simply a pretext for discrimination. Such excuses might hold up in shareholders’ meetings, but they do not hold up in court.

Damages in a sexual harassment claim usually include compensation for back wages and lost financial benefits. Additionally, either reinstatement or a reasonable amount of future pay is usually available. 

You have the right to a harassment-free workplace. For a free consultation with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer in Kansas City, contact the Krause and Kinsman Law Firm. After-hours visits are available.

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