Sexual Harassment: Is there a Case?

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No doubt, 2017 was filled with media reports of sexual harassment by famous and influential celebrities and politicians. Consider this list of 51 powerful men accused of sexually inappropriate behavior (which of course includes far more than just harassment). But with all these news stories, it can be difficult to sort through all of the noise to figure out exactly how the law looks at sexual harassment. After all, not all claims succeed.

In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that in 2017, of the 6,696 allegations of sexual harassment brought before the Commission, 4,206 were dismissed for having “no reasonable cause.”  That means over 60 percent of all claims brought are dismissed outright. So, what exactly counts as reasonable cause, and how does a court decide whether a claim is credible or not?

Understanding “Reasonable Cause”

According to the EEOC, reasonable cause is just an agency determination that the evidence presented does not tend to rise to the level of discrimination or harassment necessary to satisfy the legal requirements. When “no reasonable cause” is found, a claimant may still bring a private case in a civil court.

So, What Does a Person Have to Prove?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides clear guidance for attorneys and their clients. Under federal law, not all sexual behavior is unlawful in the workplace. In fact, the law states that conduct must be unwelcome and a “condition of employment” to qualify as sexual harassment.

Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment

Often touted as being the same thing, these are technically two different types of harassment under the federal guidelines. A quid pro quo is the cliché form of sexual harassment through which the individual in charge either directly or indirectly makes sexual favors a condition of continued employment. On the other hand, sometimes the overall circumstances or environment creates such a hyper-sexual or sexually offensive workplace that the individual is ‘constructively’ terminated. In other words, the victim had to quit due to safety or other concerns.

Good and Bad Examples of Sexual Harassment Cases

  • Miller v. Bank of America, 600 F.2d 211 (9th Cir. 1979)

A female employee was fired when she refused her boss’s sexual advances. This would be a classic example of quid pro quo. Of course, evidence can often be very difficult to find in these cases, and often such advances are so subtle and hidden that it requires a lot of work to prove intent and meaning.

  • Katz v. Dole, 709 F.2d 251 (4th Cir. 1983)

A female employee was forced to deal with a workplace so full of constant and repeated “sexual slur, insult, and innuendo,” as the court remarked in its decision, that she ultimately felt she had to leave for her own safety and well-being.

  • Gan v. Kepro Circuit Systems, 27 EPD ¶ 32,379 (E.D. Mo. 1982)

A female employee brought an action against her employer for creating a hostile work environment, similar to the one described by the plaintiff in Katz v. Dole. Only, in this case, the court found that the employee routinely engaged in similar vulgarities and repeatedly solicited private information about co-workers and male employees, in particular, asking questions about their sex lives and marriages.

The court found that the employee’s behavior largely negated her claims, because her own conduct acted as an invitation for sexual behavior. In other words, it is difficult to claim a sexually hostile work environment when you are the one contributing to it.

Experience and Understanding Matter When Taking on an Employer

When it comes to taking on an employer for sexual harassment, there is a lot on the line. For the employer, reputation and community standing can be a huge incentive to fight back hard. The employer usually has attorneys on retainer to immediately dig into every aspect of your claims and look for ways to discredit you. So you need someone on your side from day one.

Get an experienced Charleston sexual harassment attorney on your side now. If you’ve been victimized by unlawful discrimination or workplace harassment, contact the David Aylor Law Offices to schedule a confidential and free consultation. The sooner you call, the sooner you can begin preparing your case for success.

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