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Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment

SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT THE WORKPLACE

Sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA). It is a type of sex discrimination. It may involve unwelcome sexual advances, verbal conduct, such as requests for sexual favors, and other conduct of a sexual nature. It may fit into one of two categories, either “quid pro quo” or a hostile environment.

Sexual Harassment - “Quid Pro Quo”

Harassment that relates to a tangible job action, such as a threat to fire if an unwelcome sexual advance is refused, may be referred to as “quid pro quo” harassment. Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” When sex is made a requirement connected to an employee’s job opportunities, it is quid pro quo. This includes, for example, a supervisor offering a promotion to an employee if she goes out with him. Whether a promotion for acceding to a proposition or a demotion for rejecting a proposition, the requirement falls under “quid pro quo” harassment. The tangible job action is the promotion or demotion, as merely two examples of adverse job actions a supervisor may take in violation of the law.

Sexual Harassment - Hostile Environment

Sexual harassment may not result in a tangible adverse job action, such as a demotion or denial of promotion. Sexual harassment may be found when there is a hostile environment, such as when a supervisor interferes, in an unreasonable way, with an employee’s work performance, creating an intimidating or offensive environment for the employee.

 

Proving a hostile environment requires proof that the conduct was unwelcome and repeated and that the conduct was severe. Proving severity requires showing that anyone would be appalled by the conduct. As upsetting as it may be, one comment, such as teasing, or a date request, even a bigoted or crude comment, probably will not be enough to prove harassment. Courts look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the behavior crossed the line, such that it will find a hostile work environment. The more egregious the behavior, the fewer number of comments are needed, and the more likely the behavior will be found to create a hostile work environment. Courts have found that a single extreme act is sufficient. For example, a sexual assault will likely be enough to find the supervisor guilty of sexual harassment. A workplace with teasing, horseplay, banter or comments of a sexual nature is ripe for a hostile environment claim.

Sexual harassment is defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. §46a-60(b)(8) as any unwelcome sexual advances or request for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when:

 

(A) Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;

(B) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or,

(C) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

 

In the following cases, the court found that hostile work environment discrimination was present:

 

  • A supervisor sexually propositioned an employee, grabbed her breasts, and asked her in front of others why she would not have sex with him. Gerald v. Univ. of P.R., 707 F.3d 7 (1st Cir. 2013)

  • A supervisor grabbed the plaintiff’s breasts, lifted her, and rubbed her body against his. Berry v. Chi. Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688 (7th Cir. 2010)

  • References to the employee as “fucking whining cunt” who was hired because she performed oral sex. Howley v. Town of Stratford, 217 F.3d 141 (2d Cir. 2000)

  • Nude photos of women in provocative poses in the workplace. Hoyle v. Freightliner, LLC, 650 F.3d 321 (4th Cir. 2011)

 

Sexual harassment can also be found relating to members of the same sex. For example, a court found a hostile work environment in the following case:

  • A man can sue for sexual harassment by other men under federal sexual harassment laws. Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75, 118 S.Ct. 998 (1998)

From the Blog

Harassment at the workplace FAQ's

November 28, 2022, from the Dunn Law Firm

What is the most common type of harassment at the workplace?

What is not considered harassment?

PRACTICE AREAS

Employers Are Responsible for Sexual Harassment

In two situations, employers are responsible for employee harassment.

  1. If the harassment is tied to a tangible employment action such as a termination or denial of promotion, then the employer can be held liable for the supervisor’s harassing behavior.

  2. If the harassment is known about by the employer and the employer fails to take remedial action the employer can be held responsible for the supervisor’s behavior.  

 

Connecticut’s Times Up Act requires employers to train supervisors to prevent sexual harassment. Employees must receive two hours of training within six months of their start date, and employers must provide “periodic supplemental training” at least once every ten years.

 

Further, employees should be encouraged to report offending conduct to management if they are experiencing sexual harassment. They should be instructed that they are not required to complain first to the person who is harassing them.

Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment Is Prohibited

The law includes a prohibition on retaliation against an employee who reports unwelcome sexual advances or any sort of sexual harassment. This includes reports, such as filing a discrimination charge, or participating in an investigation. The prohibition on retaliation applies not only to the individual who is the target of the harassment but also to employees who witness the harassment or even expect to be the victim of such harassment.

Steps to Take if You Are Experiencing Sexual Harassment

  1. Let the harasser know, directly that the behavior is unwelcome. Make clear that you want the behavior to stop.

  2. Let the employer know through the employer's procedural process of the problem.

  3. File a formal complaint.

Contact Us

Contact us if you believe you have been subjected to sexual harassment or have any questions regarding your rights in the workplace. Please call the Dunn Law Firm directly at (203) 903-7650, or email us via cdunn@dunnemploymentlaw.com.

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DUNN LAW FIRM, LLC

(203) 903-7650

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