I’ve been sexually harassed by a supervisor. What are my options?
Being sexually harassed by your supervisor can be a traumatic experience, and it may leave you feeling like you have nowhere to turn. There are, however, steps that you can take to prevent future harassment and to create a safe and comfortable work environment for yourself and your coworkers.
Sexual harassment consists of unwanted sexual attention that is severe and pervasive, to the point that it interferes with your ability to do your job. Working in a hostile environment can have many harmful consequences; as the Supreme Court stated in Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., “a discriminatorily abusive work environment, even one that does not seriously affect employees’ psychological well-being, can and often will detract from employees’ job performance, discourage employees from remaining on the job, or keep them from advancing in their careers.” Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22 (1993). Taking immediate action can help moderate some of these negative effects.
Report to Your Employer or HR
If your employer has a human resources department, report the sexual harassment to your HR contact. Make sure to include as much information as possible in your report, including the date the harassment occurred; the name and position of the perpetrator; and the names of any witnesses to the harassment. If you reach out to HR in-person or over the phone, try to follow up via email with a written summary of your conversation, noting all of the information that you provided to them about the harassment and your understanding of any action they proposed to take.
If possible, you can also report to the person above your supervisor; they may be able to take quick action in response to your supervisor’s actions. Again, try to be as specific as possible when explaining what happened.
It is important to thoroughly document the sexual harassment that you experience. Thorough documentation will make it easier for your employer to understand what happened and to investigate your claims. Make note of the dates and times that the harassment occurred, exactly what happened, and if there were any witnesses present. You should also keep track of each time that you report the harassment to your employer and their response, if any.
If you feel comfortable doing so, try to reach out to people who were aware of or witnessed the harassment. These witnesses can provide valuable evidence in your employer’s investigation. Make note of their contact information so you can reach out to them in the future if need be.
File a Complaint with the California Civil Rights Department
Another action you can take if you have been harassed is to file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department. The California Civil Rights Department (CRD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Employment and Housing Act, under which harassment in the workplace is prohibited. Just like when you report to your employer, make sure to keep a careful record of the harassment to substantiate your allegations. You will be able to provide all of this information to the CRD when you make your complaint.
File a Lawsuit
You can also consider filing your own lawsuit with legal representation. Your employer will be strictly liable for your supervisor’s conduct, even if they did not have knowledge of the inappropriate behavior. Under California Government Code section 12940(t), a supervisor is defined as “any individual having the authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend that action, if, in connection with the foregoing, the exercise of that authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.”
Before filing your lawsuit, collect all of the documentation and evidence that you have related to the harassment. You may also want to contact co-workers who witnessed the harassment to ask if they would be willing to testify on your behalf. Finally, make sure you find an attorney who will advocate for you. If you are interested in filing a lawsuit, our experienced and compassionate attorneys are ready to help.