Guide To Sexual Harassment Lawsuits In California
Employees in California depend on human resources to take corrective action when they report sexual harassment in the workplace.
However, HR departments often fail to adequately address these issues, leaving employees vulnerable and unsure how to seek relief from unwanted sexual advances.
Ultimately, when sexual harassment claims aren’t investigated and handled appropriately, employees must seek relief from harassment through the legal process.
The following article defines what sexual harassment is, shows its impact on employees, and explains the steps you can take to find relief from sexual harassment in the workplace through the legal process.
Defining Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual conduct or behavior that creates an unhealthy or hostile environment for an employee.
Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can experience verbal, non-verbal and physical harassment of a sexual nature.
There are two categories of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environments.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or someone else in a position of authority requests sexual favors from an employee in exchange for benefits like promotions, raises or job security. It can also include threats of negative employment action if an employee does not comply with the request. The threat or promise of benefits may be express (stated directly) or implied.
Examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment include:
- A manager telling an employee they will only get a promotion if they go on a date with the manager
- A supervisor touching an employee inappropriately while insisting compliance is required to keep their job
- A supervisor asking for sexual favors in exchange for a significant yearly bonus
- A manager threatening to fire an employee if they do not share explicit photos of themselves
The most integral element of quid pro quo harassment is the power dynamic between supervisors and employees.
This dynamic can create an environment where employees feel pressured to comply with unwanted advances to maintain job security.
Hostile work environments
A hostile work environment occurs when there is discriminatory behavior or harassment in the workplace that makes it difficult or uncomfortable for an employee to perform their job duties.
This behavior can include verbal or physical abuse, intimidation, bullying, or offensive jokes or comments.
Such conduct violates employment laws and can lead to legal action against the employer.
Examples of hostile work environments include:
- Making consistent sexual comments, propositions or advances toward someone who has made it clear they are not interested
- Creating a work environment that is generally uncomfortable or hostile toward a particular gender or sexual orientation
- Verbal harassment, such as derogatory comments or slurs
- Physical harassment or intimidation, such as unwanted touching or gestures
- Isolation or exclusion of certain employees or groups
- Retaliation against employees who report harassment or discrimination
- Sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work
- Threats or intimidation for reporting sexual harassment, either explicit or implicit
The Impact Of Sexual Harassment
Over 86% of female employees in California have experienced sexual harassment or assault at some point in their careers. While the numbers aren’t as high, 53% of male employees have also experienced unwelcome behavior or sexual harassment that created a hostile work environment.
These stats are higher than the national average and show this behavior is more prevalent in some California businesses.
Unfortunately, 75% of workplace incidents go unreported and can have long-lasting effects on the victim’s physical and mental well-being, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life.
While each case is different, some regularly occurring issues affect most employees.
Emotional distress: Victims of sexual harassment may experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Physical symptoms: Sexual harassment can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and gastrointestinal problems.
Work-related issues: Victims may have difficulty concentrating at work, may miss work due to illness or injury (such as fear of missing work due to a fear of being harassed or retaliation from a superior), and may have decreased job satisfaction.
Career problems: Sexual harassment can significantly impact an employee’s career, including reduced job satisfaction, damaged confidence and self-esteem, lost opportunities for promotion or advancement, forced resignation or termination, and difficulty in finding a new job due to a negative reference.
Legal Protections For Sexual Harassment Victims In California
Victims of sexual harassment can experience significant trauma, so there are laws in place to protect employees in California.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The EEOC enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants and employees based on sex, race, color, religion, and more.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on their sex, race, color, religion, and more.
California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act
This act protects Californians from discrimination in employment and housing based on sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more.
In addition to these laws, California has passed numerous other regulations to protect individuals from sexual harassment.
For example, California requires employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees and also mandates that employers have a sexual harassment policy in place.
These laws are crucial in ensuring that individuals are protected from the harmful effects of sexual harassment and can work and live in a safe and respectful environment.
8 Things To Consider Before Filing A Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
If you’ve filed formal complaints according to your company’s policies and have either been ignored or have found no relief through the process, it’s time to look for relief through the law.
Here are eight things to consider before filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in California:
- Consult with an experienced sexual harassment attorney to assess the strength of your case and the options available to you.
- Collect and preserve any evidence related to the harassment, including emails, texts, HR complaints and witness statements.
- Determine whether you have filed a complaint with the appropriate government agency before filing a lawsuit.
- Think about your goals and desired outcomes for the case before moving forward with legal action.
- Know the time limits for filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in California, and make sure you act promptly if you decide to pursue legal action.
- Consider whether you may be subject to any mandatory arbitration agreements or other contractual provisions that may impact your ability to file a lawsuit.
- Evaluate whether you may have other legal claims related to the harassment, such as discrimination or retaliation.
- Think about the impact that pursuing legal action may have on your personal and professional life and whether you have adequate support in place to manage these challenges.
Remember that filing a sexual harassment lawsuit can be complex and emotionally challenging. It’s essential to have realistic expectations about the potential outcomes.
How To File A Sexual Harassment Lawsuit In California
If you’re a victim of sexual harassment in California and feel litigation is necessary to find relief, it is crucial to know the steps for filing a lawsuit.
Here are the steps to ensure you file your lawsuit correctly and have the best chance of receiving the justice you deserve.
Step 1: Hire a sexual harassment lawyer
Before filing a sexual harassment lawsuit, hiring an attorney specializing in this area of law is essential. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and provide guidance throughout the legal process.
Step 2: File a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)
The first step in filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in California is to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You can file a complaint online, by mail, or in person.
Step 3: Obtain a Right to Sue Letter
Once you file a complaint with the DFEH, you must obtain a Right to Sue Letter before proceeding with a lawsuit. This letter gives you the right to file a lawsuit in court against your employer.
Step 4: File a lawsuit
With the Right to Sue Letter and legal representation, you can file a lawsuit against your employer. Victims should file the case in the appropriate court and include details of the sexual harassment and any damages they suffered.
Step 5: Attend mediation or settlement talks
Before taking your case to trial, you may be required to attend mediation or settlement talks. This is an opportunity for both parties to resolve the lawsuit outside of court. If a settlement is reached, the case will not go to trial.
Step 6: Attend trial
If a settlement is not reached, the case will proceed to trial. Both parties will present their arguments and evidence to a judge or jury at trial. The judge or jury will then decide and award damages, if appropriate.
Assert Your Rights And Find The Right Sexual Harassment Attorney Today
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, knowing your rights and finding the right attorney to support you is essential.
For more information, read our complete guide to sexual harassment or contact our qualified team at Makarem & Associates to help assert your rights, hold perpetrators accountable, and ensure a safer workplace for all.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I experience sexual harassment at work?
If you experience sexual harassment at work, you should report it to your HR department. Keep a record of the incident, and consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor. Understanding your legal rights and options is essential, including filing a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or hiring an attorney to file a sexual harassment lawsuit.
How long do I have to file a sexual harassment complaint in California?
You have limited time to file a sexual harassment complaint in California. The time limits can vary depending on the circumstances of the case, but generally, you have one year from the date of the harassment to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You may lose your right to file a complaint or lawsuit if you miss this deadline. Acting quickly and seeking legal guidance as soon as possible is essential.
What remedies are available to victims of sexual harassment in California?
There are four types of remedies that you can receive if you succeed in a sexual harassment lawsuit. The most common form of damages are monetary damages for the emotional distress that you have suffered. The next most common remedy is rehiring or reinstatement if you were fired wrongfully terminated from your job. You can also receive lost wages for the time you should have been working if you were wrongfully terminated. Lastly, your employer may be required to change their practices to avoid future incidents of sexual harassment.