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What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. It can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. To be actionable, the harassment must affect an individual's employment, unreasonably interfere with an individual's work performance, or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

At the Sampath Law Firm in San Francisco, we advise and represent employees pursuing workplace sexual harassment claims. Content us today to see if you have a sexual harassment case by calling our office at (415) 231-5854 or by filling out our online form.

Types of Sexual Harassment

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines two main types of sexual harassment:

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Meaning “this for that”, “quid pro quo” sexual harassment involves a situation where employment decisions or workplace benefits are conditionally allocated based on an employee's submission to sexual advances or demands. “Quid pro quo” sexual harassment typically looks like employees being expected to grant sexual favors in exchange for something job-related, such as a promotion, raise, continued employment, or other work-related benefits.

This type of sexual harassment is prohibited under a number of laws, both at the state and federal levels, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Victims of quid pro quo harassment may file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) to pursue an investigation through the state agency) and/or pursue private legal action against the harasser and/or the employer.

In a legal “quid pro quo” sexual harassment case, the employee must typically show that a tangible employment action was directly linked to the acceptance or rejection of demands for sexual favors. Tangible employment actions include hiring, firing, promotions, demotions, or changes in compensation.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

In a hostile work environment, employees experience workplace harassment that is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider their work environment intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive. Unlike quid pro quo harassment, which involves an explicit or implicit condition of employment, hostile work environment harassment is more about the overall work atmosphere.

Like “quid pro quo” sexual harassment, victims of a hostile work environment are entitled to file a complaint and seek an investigation through the CRD and/or take private legal action against the harasser and/or employer.

To pursue a successful hostile work environment claim, you must demonstrate that the workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that was sufficiently severe (even if it was a one-time event) or pervasive (i.e., frequent and long-lasting) to create an abusive working environment.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Examples of sexual harassment include but are not limited to:

  • Attempted or actual sexual assault

  • Direct or indirect threats or bribes for unwanted sexual activity

  • Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with co-workers

  • Displaying inappropriate sexual images or posters in the workplace

  • Telling lewd jokes, or sharing sexual anecdotes

  • Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person

  • Asking sexual questions, such as questions about someone's sexual history or their sexual orientation

  • Making offensive comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity

Who is Liable for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

California law – more specifically, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – holds employers directly responsible for sexual harassment when it's committed by supervisors or managers. Employers can also be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or third parties (for example, customers or contractors) if the employer knew, or should have known, about the harassment and did not take appropriate action to correct the situation.

Individual harassers, whether a supervisor, co-worker, or a non-employee, can be held personally liable for their actions. In California, FEHA allows victims of sexual harassment to file claims against individual harassers in addition to their employers.

Contact an Experienced San Francisco Sexual Harassment Attorney

If you believe you have been sexually harassed at your workplace, you should know that you do not have to tolerate this mistreatment and that there are laws to protect you. It's important to consult with an employment attorney experienced in sexual harassment claims. Contact our San Francisco legal team for guidance and to see if you have a potential sexual harassment case.

The Sampath Law Firm Is Here for You

At The Sampath Law Firm, we focus on employment law and we are here to listen to you and help you navigate the legal system.

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The Sampath Law Firm is committed to answering your questions about employment-related law issues and other workplace injustices in California.

We'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.