Are you a victim of sexual harassment? This is an overview of the different types of sexual harassment-related claims for victims of sexual harassment.
California regulations define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser. The following is a partial list of potential violations:
- Unwanted sexual advances;
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors;
- Making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances;
- Visual conduct: leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of suggestive objects or pictures, cartoon or posters;
- Verbal conduct: making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, and jokes;
- Verbal sexual advances or propositions;
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual, suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations;
- Physical conduct: touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements.
Workplace sexual harassment violates both federal and California law. Under Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Title VII also prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Courts have recognized two main theories of actionable sexual harassment based on the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
The first is quid pro quo sexual harassment, which means “this for that” in Latin. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a term of employment is expressly or implicitly conditioned upon acceptance of an unwelcome sexual advance. This may be for favorable employment terms or to avoid adverse employment consequences.
The second main theory of sexual harassment is hostile work environment sexual harassment. This occurs when an employee is subject to unwelcome sexual or gender-related conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile or abusive working environment. Generally speaking, the courts have defined severe sexual harassment of the hostile work environment type as a sexual assault or sexual battery, meaning an offensive sexual touching or threat thereof. In determining what constitutes sufficiently pervasive harassment, courts have held that acts of harassment cannot be occasional, isolated, sporadic or trivial. The plaintiff must show a concerted pattern of harassment of a repeated, routine or generalized nature.
Sexual harassment victims may avoid reporting the abuse that they are suffering out of fear of losing their job or being an outcast a twork. It is important to realize that retaliation against employees who make sexual harassment claims is prohibited by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. An employer cannot retaliate against an employee who makes a claim for sexual harassment or against an employee who supports another’s claim for sexual harassment, such as a supportive witness for a victim of sexual harassment.
Another subtype of sexual harassment includes spreading rumors about sexual behavior, which is akin to defamation as a method for sexual harassment.
Also, sexual harassment is not limited to the workplace. California Civil Code Section 51.9 prohibits sexual harassment in business, service and professional relationships where the victim is unable to easily terminate the relationship. The law provides for an extensive list of professions that may qualify under this Civil Code Section and also allows for relationships substantially similar to the ones listed in the statute.
Other legal claims that may accompany a complaint for sexual harassment are infliction of emotional distress, sexual assault, sexual battery and, in some cases, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy and stalking.
All sexual harassment falls under the category of sex or gender discrimination. But not all gender discrimination is necessarily sexual harassment. Illegal gender discrimination can also occur when abusive behaviors at work, such as yelling, are directed toward a particular gender. The yelling or abusive behavior does not need to have sexual content.
Another form of gender discrimination is pregnancy discrimination. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against both potential and current employees by inquiring into whether they are or intend to become pregnant. Employers must treat pregnant employees like any other temporarily disabled employee. There are also laws governing how employers may treat pregnancy leave, health benefits, fringe benefits, and so on. See our pregnancy discrimination section for more information.
Sexual harassment and discrimination can happen anywhere. Thankfully, there are laws in place to help prevent harassment in the workplace. Take the time to explore the resources on this site and learn what your rights are.