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What Are Your Legal Rights If You Are Being Sexually Harassed?

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With the report that Fox News has fired Bill O’Reilly following sexual harassment allegations, and Uber is investigating similar incidents, the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is getting a lot of news coverage.

In Bill O’Reilly’s case, Wendy Walsh alleges that one night over dinner O’Reilly offered to help her secure a promotion, and then invited her back to his hotel room. When Walsh refused, O’Reilly became hostile and eventually retaliated. Meanwhile, at Uber, Susan J. Fowler says that she experienced a hostile workplace while working as a software an engineer at the ridesharing company, and she was propositioned, retaliated against for reporting the incident, and threatened with termination.

As formal corporate culture, known for strict HR rules, is increasingly disrupted by startup energy, a business casual, laissez faire attitude, increasingly seems to dominate workplaces. In this environment where anything goes, it can be hard to know what your rights are, the proper channel for reporting sexual harassment, and what to do if you are being sexually harassed. To help, we put together a quick guide:

What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual attention, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical harassment. A harasser can be a boss, co-worker, or client.

What does the law say?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: “Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

What type of sexual harassment claims could you file?
Typically, there are two main types sexual harassment claims: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

What would constitute a quid pro quo claim?
Quid Pro Quo is when you are given the chance to benefit from a work opportunity, which could include a promotion, assignment, or not being fired. In these type of situations, a victim might be expected to give into these requests to get hired or promoted.

What would qualify as a hostile work environment?
A hostile work environment is when sexual harassment at the office makes the environment offensive, intimidating, or hostile. Courts will often examine if the conduct was verbal, physical or both; how frequent was it; was it hostile and/or offensive; was the harasser a co-worker or supervisor; whether others participated; and did it target more than one person.

Can you be punished for complaining about sexual harassment?
Nope! According to the law, your employer cannot retaliate against you for complaining about sexual harassment. It also protects you if participate in an investigation.

What can you do if you are experiencing sexual harassment?
Review your company’s policies. Document the incidents including as many specifics as you can, make sure to note the time and place, and if there were any witnesses. Also make sure to keep track of your achievements at work. Then go to your supervisor, or the HR department, and notify them of the harassment. File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — you typically have 180 days, or six months, from the date of the harassment to file a claim. If you are not ready to file yet, you can also just call the EEOC and speak with a counselor.

What happens if you file a case with the EEOC?
First, the EEOC will let your employer know you filed a complaint. They may try to settle the complaint, or take you to a mediator. If they are unable to arrive at a settlement, they may file a lawsuit, or they may dismiss the claim.


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I received a promotion, been with the company for a few years. Became practice manager. Oh the comments that then started, by the owner/doctor himself! I refused to even go into the lunchroom with him to have my lunch (very small privately owned office) He asked me to go "fix his desk drawer he left open for me, which in my disgust had only sex oils, and NASTY sex toy and a diaper inside of it, and the drawer was not needing fixed! A few months into it, I could not take it anymore. He was sat down privately (there is no human resources or other supervisors to go to) and told to stop, it makes me uncomfortable, "the new cameras purchased caught it in action, you cannot do these things, or say these things" etc.

Then is when the hostile retaliation began. Not one action, opinion, statement, etc was taken seriously. I was talked to like I was completely stupid and crazy. I was made fun of and ridiculed for my every move or word. Never did he pass up the opportunity to correct me, while (in his terms) "complimenting how "WOW SEEE-XY" "too bad I'm not chasing you down the hallway, mine don't work that easily anymore". It continuously got worse, noticeably worse weekly, daily.

When his wife started to get nosy and look into things and he would try to blame me for things he was doing (finances, ETC) is when I had enough! I delete nothing; document everything. When she texted me yelling at me and trying to reprimand me for these things, I responded with, "I don't think you are being told the whole story of anything, I do not want to be the middle fall back person anymore!" and then sent her just a few (not sexually explicit ones, just ones to prove he was the reason for said issues, not me) screen shots. Within a couple days of this, my hours were increased, but I was taken down in salary by almost 75% of my pay. I was refused pay for several things, he would show up after hours and go through my things, held meetings with outside of the office semi-affiliates about me to find a way to force me out. I was not quitting, I was not accepting the salary or the crap, but I refused to quit this was my only income. He then quit paying my tuition, that he insisted on me having to take classes and get certified for his benefit! I went a sought out an attorney's advice at this point (@ $195 for a 30 minute consultation) I was informed to have any suit, I had to by law start with the State Board of Human Rights, if they find just cause then we can file, if they do not find just cause then there is nothing I can do. For 8 weeks this continued. Then I was fired. He used several false reasons to fire me. When I filed for my unemployment (same day of termination) he fought that as well, giving them several other false reasons I was fired. He provided a 27 page summary of his stance, I then responded to that 27 pages, with 90 pages proving all of his statements false. He is now slandering me to the fullest extent of that word. He completely cut me off from everything. I'm not getting call backs from prospective employers that I'm completely qualified for or anything. He is refusing to pay me the almost 10k in unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, unused PTO, and the a little less than 1200 in tuition. He thinks he has left me with no way to take a stand against him. He is a doctor and is somebody! So he cut me off totally so I couldn't tarnish his reputation by speaking out. This is the plan that was worked out in the secret meetings. His wife is an elected "official" from the town they live in (about 35-40 miles from where I live and worked). I'm at a loss, but I refuse to sit quietly and go unheard and allow all of my dedication, hard work, and qualities be ran through the mud at the sideline, going to waste!

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