A strong and understanding sexual harassment lawyer can help win your case
Looking for a sexual harassment lawyer because your boss or co-worker is a creep? Is sexual harassment at work making it harder to do your job? No one deserves to work in a sexually hostile environment.
Instead, you have the right to work in a safe, professional environment without being harassed or degraded because of your sex. If you believe that you are suffering from sexual harassment at work, contact us online or at 888-KITAYLAW for a free consultation. Our lawyers are ready to help.
What is sexual harassment at work?
Sexual harassment at work is any unwelcome, offensive, or discriminatory conduct based on an employee’s sex. For example, the following conduct can be considered sexual harassment:
- sexual advances or threats
- unwanted or inappropriate touching
- sexually-themed pictures or jokes
- sexual gestures
- gender stereotypes about looks, fashion, or attitude
- teasing or bullying
- requests for sexual favors
- retaliation based on rejection of sexual advances
If you have experienced any of these unwanted actions, you should speak with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer immediately.
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What is the law regarding sexual harassment at work?
An experienced sexual harassment lawyer can explain how the law affects your individual situation. Interestingly, no law specifically prohibits “sexual harassment” at work. Instead, the law prohibits “discrimination based on sex.” The United States Supreme Court has said that this includes when your work environment becomes hostile because of your sex. Importantly, sexual harassment may create this sort of hostile work environment. Therefore, “sexual harassment” claims are often called “hostile work environment” claims. Either way, these claims are really sex discrimination claims.
Sexual harassment is any harassment that is based on an employee’s sex. In other words, the harassment does not need to be based on sexual desire or attraction. Therefore, the United States Supreme Court has held that sexual harassment also includes harassment by employees of the same sex. Still, you must prove that the harassment was based on your sex.
Do any specific laws prevent sexual harassment at work?
In Pennsylvania, sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by at least two laws: (1) a federal law, called Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); and (2) a state law, called the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) enforces Title VII. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) enforces the PHRA. Some cities and towns, like Philadelphia and Allentown, have their own laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work.
All of these laws prohibit the same kind of harassing conduct in the workplace. The biggest difference between the laws is to which employers they apply. For example:
- Title VII applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least 15 employees.
- The PHRA applies only to Pennsylvania employers with at least 4 employees.
- Local laws usually apply to employers with any number of employees within the town or city.
Chances are, your employer is covered by one of these laws. As a result, an experienced lawyer at Kitay Law Offices will be able to determine which laws apply to your case.
How do you prove sexual harassment in the workplace?
To prove that harassment was based on sex, you must typically show either:
- that the harassment involved sex-specific language or conduct (e.g. sexual advances or sex-based profanity); or
- that the harasser treated you worse than employees of the opposite sex.
Amazingly, not all sexual harassment is illegal. To be illegal, the sexual harassment you experience must be “severe” or “pervasive.” In other words, it must be extreme or happen frequently. The harassment must be frequent enough to change the conditions of your employment. Isolated incidents of harassment are not illegal unless they are clearly severe.
For example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently ruled that a supervisor’s single use of the “n-word” in front of African-American employees was severe enough to bring a claim for racial harassment. This logic applies equally to sexual harassment claims. Therefore, a single, severe act of sexual harassment may be enough to violate the law.
An experienced lawyer at Kitay Law Offices will discuss your specific situation and explain whether the harassment you suffered was severe or frequent enough to be illegal.
How to file a sexual harassment lawsuit
Title VII and the PHRA both require sexual harassment victims to file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC before going to court. This is called “exhausting administrative remedies.” If you file a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC in Pennsylvania, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC. While you are not required to have an attorney in order to file the complaint, hiring an experienced sexual harassment lawyer is crucial to your success. Even at this preliminary stage, you must navigate many complex rules and procedures. Therefore, failure to do so can harm your case.
How long after sexual harassment can you sue?
Under Title VII, you must give the EEOC at least 180 days to investigate your complaint. If the EEOC has not completed its investigation within that time, you may request a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This letter from the EEOC gives you the right to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer in court. Once you receive this letter, you must file your lawsuit within 90 days. For additional information, the EEOC maintains a public portal where you can learn more about filing a sexual harassment complaint.
Under the PHRA, you must give the PHRC at least 1 year to investigate your sexual harassment complaint. If the PHRC has not resolved your case within 1 year, you may automatically file your PHRA sexual harassment claim in court. Unlike with the EEOC, you do not need to receive a Notice of Right to Sue before going to court. The PHRC also maintains a helpful guide for filing a sexual harassment complaint.
As you can see, filing a sexual harassment complaint with the EEOC or PHRC can be a confusing process. To ensure you have the strongest case possible, speak with an experienced lawyer at Kitay Law Offices. We are ready to help, so contact us online or at 888-KITAYLAW for a free consultation.
What is the deadline to file a lawsuit?
To protect your sexual harassment claims under Title VII and the PHRA, you must file a complaint with the EEOC or the PHRC within 180 days of the last act of harassment. If you file your sexual harassment claim with the EEOC, it will automatically be filed with the PHRC. The same is true if you file first with the PHRC.
If you miss the 180-day deadline, you can still protect your federal sexual harassment claim under Title VII. To do so, you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of the last act of harassment. However, you will lose your PHRA claim.
If you do not file your complaints by these deadlines, you may lose your claims forever. That’s why it is important to have an attorney handle the process for you. Speak with an experienced lawyer at Kitay Law Offices to ensure you meet all deadlines and that your complaint is complete.
Quick guide to reporting sexual harassment at work
If you are being sexually harassed at work, here are 5 steps you should take immediately:
STEP 1 – Tell the harasser to STOP!
To be illegal, sexual harassment must be unwelcome or offensive. In other words, it’s not “harassment” if it doesn’t bother you. Therefore, to show that the harassment bothers you and is unwelcome, CLEARLY TELL THE HARASSER TO STOP! Even better, tell the harasser to stop in writing.
For example, if you have the harasser’s cell phone number or email address, you can send him or her a text or email. If you can’t tell the harasser to stop in writing, then tell him or her verbally. However, make sure you record the date, time, and place you verbally told the harasser to stop. In any event, always make it clear to the harasser that his or her conduct is unwelcome and unacceptable. Doing this will help your experienced sexual harassment lawyer effectively pursue your case.
STEP 2 – Report the harassment IN WRITING
In most cases, your employer violates the law only when it knows or should know you are being sexually harassed and fails to stop it. Your employer cannot be held liable for harassment it does not know about. Therefore, in almost all cases, the law requires you to report the harassment to your employer.
In many cases, your employee handbook will tell you what steps to take if you are being sexually harassed at work. Many times, the employee handbook will tell you to report the harassment to your supervisor. However, if your supervisor is the harasser, you should report to his or her supervisor directly. If that isn’t possible, report the harassment to a Human Resources official. Always follow the procedure in your employee handbook as closely as possible.
If you never received an employee handbook, ask a Human Resources official how to file a sexual harassment report. If your company is very small, make the report to one of the owners or managers. In many small companies, owners also manage the business. In the case where a small business owner is the harasser, contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer or the PHRC/EEOC directly.
Regardless of to whom you report, ALWAYS REPORT THE HARASSMENT IN WRITING! If you can, report in writing the first time. If you made a verbal report first, follow up with a written report as soon as possible. This cannot be stressed enough. It is far easier to prove that your employer had notice of the harassment if you report it in writing.
Also make sure to include ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION in your report. For example, your report should include at least the following:
- The name(s) of the harasser(s);
- The date(s) and location(s) of the harassment; and
- The names of any witnesses.
STEP 3 – Keep track of all harassment
As stated above, sexual harassment is illegal only if it is severe or pervasive. That means the sexual harassment must be extreme or frequent. If you are claiming one or two instances of severely harassing conduct, you should write down the dates, times, and locations of the harassment. You should also take note of who was present. You should do the same thing to keep track of harassment that is less severe, but happens more often.
Perhaps most importantly, save every harassing text message, photo, or voicemail. Don’t delete anything! The more incidents of harassment you are able to prove, the more likely you will win your case. Keeping a journal or diary of the harassing conduct will help you do this. All of this evidence will help your experienced sexual harassment lawyer present the strongest case possible on your behalf.
STEP 4 – Cooperate with Human Resources
Once you complain about sexual harassment, your Human Resources department or manager will usually get involved. They may ask you to answer questions or provide information about the harassment to help them in their investigation. Importantly, always answer their questions honestly and provide the information they request.
STEP 5 – Seek help
Sexual harassment at work can be traumatizing. Unfortunately, it can also increase your risk for mental or emotional illnesses. Some examples include:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- low self-esteem or self-confidence
- poor psychological well-being
If you are feeling anxious or depressed because of sexual harassment at work, contact a therapist or professional counselor immediately. In addition, there are numerous Pennsylvania groups and organizations ready to help victims of sexual harassment. For instance, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape offers various forms of assistance to victims of workplace sexual harassment. Further, the YWCA has programs that provide comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The YWCA also has a 24-hour crisis hotline, which can be reached at 1-800-654-1211.
How often does sexual harassment occur at work?
It’s hard to say how often sexual harassment occurs at work because not all harassment is formally reported. However, in 2019, the EEOC received 12,739 complaints alleging sex-based or sexual harassment. The PHRC received 446 complaints of sexual harassment in 2019. Also in 2019, employers paid out a record $68.2 million to those alleging sexual harassment violations through the EEOC. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is still common in the workplace.
Can I be fired or disciplined for reporting sexual harassment at work?
Title VII and the PHRA both make it illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for opposing or reporting sexual harassment. For example, your employer cannot do any of the following because you opposed or reported sexual harassment:
- fire you
- demote you
- suspend you
- deny you a promotion
- reduce your pay or hours
- re-assign or re-locate you
- harass or bully you
- embarrass or humiliate you
If your employer illegally retaliates against you, you may be entitled to get your job or regular hours back, plus your lost pay and benefits. If you were denied a promotion, you may be entitled to the job and/or the increased pay or benefits you would have received for the job.
For a comprehensive review of your case and your rights, speak with a lawyer at Kitay Law Offices. We are ready to listen and help. Call us at 888-KITAYLAW or contact us online for a free consultation.
Who is responsible to pay for sexual harassment at work?
If you are sexually harassed at work, Title VII allows you to sue only your employer. Under Title VII, you cannot sue the individual harassers personally. Nor can you sue any individual employee of your employer.
However, the PHRA often allows sexual harassment victims to sue the harassers themselves. This is because the PHRA makes it illegal for anyone to “aid” or “abet” sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. In addition to the harasser, the PHRA also allows you to sue:
- Any person who failed to report or investigate the harassment
- Those who assisted or instigated the harasser
- Anybody involved in firing, demoting, or suspending you because you opposed, or complained about, the harassment
Deciding which parties to sue for sexual harassment can be a complex process. Failing to sue the right people on time can result in you losing your claims. As a result, it is crucial for you to retain an experienced sexual harassment lawyer who can identify and sue the people responsible.
What damages can my sexual harassment lawyer obtain for me?
Your experienced sexual harassment lawyer will work to recover compensation for your claim. This compensation is called “damages.” Importantly, your lawyer will seek three different types of damages for your sexual harassment at work:
- Economic Damages: Among other things, this can include compensation for past and future lost wages.
- Compensatory Damages: Generally, this includes emotional distress and humiliation.
- Punitive Damages: This is meant to punish your employer for intentional misconduct.
Title VII and the PHRA also place limits on the kinds and amounts of damages you can recover if you are sexually harassed at work. Under Title VII, for example, there is no cap on economic damages. However, the combined amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can recover is limited based on the size of your employer:
- 15-100 employees: $50,000 combined limit
- 101-200 employees: $100,000 combined limit
- 201-500 employees: $200,000 combined limit
- More than 500 employees: $300,000 combined limit
Like Title VII, the PHRA does not limit economic damages. Unlike Title VII, however, the PHRA does not limit your compensatory damages and does not allow punitive damages. It can be confusing to determine the types and amounts of damages you can recover. As a result, it is important to have an experienced sexual harassment lawyer on your side.
Should I still get a sexual harassment lawyer if I already quit my job?
Yes! Sexual harassment at work is illegal, regardless of whether you continue working or quit. Therefore, you have a right to be compensated for all the damages caused by the sexual harassment. If you do not quit, your damages will mostly be limited to non-economic damages for emotional distress and humiliation.
If you do quit because of the harassment, you may also be able to recover lost pay. However, this is only true if the harassment was so bad that any reasonable person in your position would have quit as well. This is called a “constructive discharge.” This means that your employer made your working conditions so bad, you were forced to quit.
To determine your rights, contact an experienced lawyer at Kitay Law Offices. Contact us online or call 888-KITAYLAW for a free consultation.
How long will it take to resolve my sexual harassment case?
Generally, sexual harassment cases resolve within 2 years. Some cases may resolve in as little as 6 months while others may take several years. Your specific case, however, may take more or less time. This will depend on several factors, including:
- The nature and complexity of your case
- How many people you sue
- The number of witnesses involved
- Whether your employer has insurance to cover the sexual harassment claim
- Which types and amounts of damages you are claiming
- The court where you file your lawsuit
- Your employer’s relative willingness to settle your case
If you handle your sexual harassment case on your own, it can take a lot longer to resolve. This can cause a lot of uncertainty, stress, and wasted time. In order to make sure that your case is moving towards resolution, it is necessary to have an experienced sexual harassment lawyer by your side. Contact Kitay Law Offices online or by calling 888-KITAYLAW for a free consultation.
Does the law protect independent contractors from sexual harassment at work?
Yes, but only under Pennsylvania law. That is because the PHRA makes it illegal to sexually harass an independent contractor. However, federal law only prohibits sexual harassment against employees. Therefore, Title VII does not protect independent contractors from sexual harassment.
If you would like more information about your rights in the workplace, especially in the current COVID-19 coronavirus climate, read our blog article.
For our Spanish-speaking friends in the community, contact us today! Our staff is fully bilingual and we can discuss your legal matter completely in Spanish. ¡Se habla español!