How Do I Know if I Experienced Sexual Harassment?
A lawyer can help you understand if you have experienced illegal sexual harassment. In general, behaviors at work count as harassment if they are unwelcome, sexual or based on gender and sex, and create a hostile work environment. It may also be harassment if the behavior requires you to tolerate it to avoid adverse work decisions.
Some examples of illegal sexual harassment at work include:
- Attempted or actual assault or rape
- Repeated unwelcome touching, including hugging
- Sexual stories or lewd jokes
- Sexist comments and jokes
- Sexual comments about you
- Requesting sexual favors for benefits
What Can I Do About Sexual Harassment?
It’s important to understand what constitutes illegal harassment, and if you experience it, you should take some kind of action to stop it. This may or may not include filing a lawsuit, depending on the situation and your other options.
The law protects workers from sexual harassment. It is not something you have to tolerate. There are a few things you can do short of filing a lawsuit to bring a stop to the harassment and get remedies:
- Confront the person sexually harassing you and ask them to stop.
- Report the incident to your supervisor or human resource department.
- Report the incident to your union representative.
- Follow the steps in your company’s sexual harassment policy, if it has one.
- Hire a lawyer to negotiate with your employer to remedy the situation.
- File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
When Should I File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
If you take the steps above without a satisfactory result, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit. Laws in your state may allow you to sue at any point in the process. If state laws where you work do not address sexual harassment or allow for lawsuits, you can file a charge with the EEOC. This is required before you can start a lawsuit.
How Do I File a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
Start with the EEOC filing. You must file with your regional EEOC office by filling out the required forms. Your complaint describes the situation and provides information about your employer. The EEOC will investigate, and you can then request a Notice of Right to Sue. You can also request a Notice before the investigation is complete.
Once you are allowed to file, your lawyer will take you through the process, which begins with an official complaint to notify the defendants. Your lawyer will then gather evidence, hold depositions, and build your case.
Your employer’s legal team may be willing to negotiate a settlement before you have to go to trial. If those negotiations fail, your lawyer will argue your case in court in front of a jury. The jury decides if the defendants are liable and what they owe you.
Who Can I Sue in a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
Your lawyer can look at your case and determine who is liable for the harm caused by the harassment. Ultimately it is the responsibility of supervisors and employers to maintain a safe work environment, and they are usually liable. You may be able to sue:
- Your employer
- An individual supervisor or manager who harassed you
- An individual supervisor or manager who didn’t do enough to prevent or stop harassment
- Your union or representatives if they did not protect your rights
Can I Recover Damages in a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
Sexual harassment doesn’t always result in damages, but many do. For instance, if harassment resulted in a job loss, a loss of a promotion, or a rejected pay increase, you could be entitled to damages for back pay and benefits.
Some suits result in front pay. This means that if you cannot get your job back because it would be untenable to work with the employer, you may receive front pay as compensation. The amount is based on how long it might take you to get a similar position with another company, how long you worked in the previous job, and your age.
Compensatory and punitive damages are also possible in sexual harassment lawsuits. Your lawyer may argue that you suffered emotional harm, or you may actually have physical health problems related to the incident. You could recover damages for related expenses. Punitive damages could be awarded to punish the employer who let this happen.
The EEOC limits damages amounts based on the size of the company for whom you worked. For instance, if your employer has between 15 and 100 employees, you can recover no more than $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Is There a Statute of Limitations?
All lawsuits have a statute of limitations. If you are filing under state jurisdiction, the time limit will depend on state law. It could be a year or a few years from the incident. If you are going through the EEOC with a Notice of Right to Sue, you have just 90 days from the time you receive the Notice to begin the lawsuit.
Filing a sexual harassment lawsuit is a big step. To make sure you do it right, have the best chance of a positive outcome, and don’t miss deadlines, work with an experienced lawyer specializing in this area of the law.