SETTLEMENT IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASE INCLUDES OUTSIDE REVIEW

Over the past few years, several news outlets have highlighted a concern in the janitorial industry. Specifically, the news stories discussed a high rate of sexual harassment in the industry, especially among workers who handled cleaning duties during evenings and nights in mostly empty offices or buildings. One woman in California sued her former company after she claimed she was raped when working at night.

The woman reportedly claimed that a supervisor raped her while she was cleaning a building in California. The woman was later fired from the company. She alleged that the company fired her because she spoke up about the sexual harassment; if true, that would have been considered retaliation, which is not legal.

Reports indicate that the company did review the woman’s complaint, which alleged a rape in 2004. The company reportedly found her claims were not conclusive enough for action, but later the woman was awarded over $800,000 by a jury in her lawsuit. The jury reportedly noted that it agreed the company retaliated against the woman and that the company did not keep her safe.

After an appeal of the case, the company reportedly settled with the woman. The details of the settlement are confidential, but reports are that the company is allowing outside review of its practices as a result of the settlement. The outside review is reportedly meant to add additional oversight layers that might provide additional protection for employees who are working for the company.

Workers in any environment deserve some expectation of safety, and all workers have a right to report issues without fear of retaliation. If you believe you have been retaliated against or are dealing with a hostile work environment because of sexual harassment, then you likely have a case for some type of legal action.

Source: KQED: The California Report, “Largest Janitorial Company Agrees to Reform Response to Sexual Abuse,” Andrew Donohue, Dec. 10, 2015

WHAT DOES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT LAW SAY ABOUT GENDER?

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 says that businesses cannot discriminate in providing wages to people who are performing equal work based on gender. That means that individuals who are handling the same responsibilities at the same quality level for the same period of time cannot make different wages solely because one is a women and one is a man. The act would likely also come into play in situations involving transgendered individuals.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 goes even further. It protects people from discrimination in hiring or promotions based on gender as well as religion, race, national origin or color. This means that employers cannot base a decision between equally qualified candidates based solely on one of these factors. Businesses also cannot promote or choose not to promote a person based on these factors.

It’s interesting to note that pregnancy is included in the protections of the act. Women cannot be fired solely because they become pregnant, and pregnancy cannot be the sole factor in a decision about hiring or promotion.

The acts also provide options for someone who feels he or she is facing discrimination because of his or her gender. Individuals are protected from retaliation if they report issues of discrimination, which means employers cannot create a hostile work environment to punish an employee for asserting his or her rights.

If you think you have been discriminated against, or if you are facing a hostile work environment because you raised issues of discrimination, then it’s important to know your rights. You could have rights to seek corrective action or recover through civil legal action.

Source: United States Department of Labor, “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law,” accessed Nov. 18, 2015

TRANSGENDER EMPLOYEES MIGHT BE HARASSED OR FACE DISCRIMINATION

Employers in California have a lot of different factors to consider when they are trying to ensure that workers aren’t being subjected to harassment, discrimination or a hostile work environment. One particularly sensitive issue that employers aren’t always aware of is gender equality. That leaves workers who are transgender at an increased risk of suffering from discrimination, harassment or a hostile work environment. In some cases, the worker might be retaliated against or wrongfully terminated.

Gender identity discrimination can occur in several forms. Employers who terminate people who are transgender or people who are planning a transition are often discriminating. Employers who don’t allow employees to use the restroom that is appropriate based on their gender identity and those who permit off-color jokes about the transgender employee are also allowing discrimination and sexual harassment to occur.

While there aren’t any federal laws that protect transgender employees, there are laws that can pertain to specific situations that might occur. For example, an employer who allows sexually explicit comments geared toward the transgender employee is violating sexual harassment laws. If a transgender employee files a complaint about harassment and is demoted, the employer is violating retaliation laws.

No employee, regardless of his or her gender identity, should be subjected to a hostile work environment. If you are being harassed or discriminated against at work, you should learn about your options for making the behaviors stop. Once you learn your options, you can decide what you want to do. In some cases, you might need to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission so you can move on to other legal options.

Source: Workplace Fairness, “Gender Identity Discrimination,” accessed Oct. 09, 2015

SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWSUIT RESOLVED IN FEDERAL COURT

A hostile work environment caused by sexual harassment is something that no employee should have to deal with. In fact, that type of situation is against federal laws. One company recently found out just how seriously the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes claims of sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment.

The EEOC filed a case against VXI Global Solutions in federal court. That case was recently resolved when the court approved a settlement that included $600,000 for nine employees, three men and six women, as well as other terms.

The case made by the EEOC included a variety of claims of sexual harassment. The EEOC noted that women were propositioned for sex, subjected to lewd comments and groped. Male employees were subjected to backrubs and lap dances by female supervisors. The men who declined those types of actions had their sexual orientation questioned. Of the complaining employees, at least seven were fired in a retaliatory manner.

As part of the settlement, the company will have to provide training regarding sexual harassment to all the employees in their United States offices, including their Los Angeles office. The company will have to update procedures and policies regarding sexual harassment. It is also being monitored for four years by the EEOC.

No employees should have to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. These employees chose to take a stand against sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment. Any employee who is being sexually harassed, retaliated against or subjected to a hostile work environment might opt to take legal action against his or her employer.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, “Call center company settles federal sex harassment suit,” Brian Melley, Sep. 14, 2015

IS ALL WORKPLACE HARASSMENT THE SAME?

When you decide to work for a company, there are likely a few things that you considered when you accepted the job. One of the factors was likely that you wanted to earn money. Another factor might have been how you felt you would like working at the company. Once you start working for that company, you might discover that the environment isn’t what you thought it would be. While that might be just a luck-of-the-draw occurrence, it might also be because you are the victim of some form of workplace harassment.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment occurs when people in the workplace treat you in a negative manner because of a protected status. These statuses include parental status, gender identity, pregnancy, color, sex, race, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation or age. It doesn’t matter who is harassing you as long as it is because of a protected status. This means that you are protected from harassment by supervisors, co-works, clients, customers, contractors and anyone else who you come into contact with at work.

What are the different types of harassment?

A hostile work environment is one form of workplace harassment. In this case, the harassing behavior would be actions like making crude jokes, unwanted touching, acting in a hostile manner, using demeaning terms or similar actions. Quid pro quo harassment is the other form of workplace harassment. In this case, a supervisor would make deals with you that have an impact on your work. An example would be telling you that you will be promoted if you perform sexual acts or join a supervisor’s religion.

Workplace harassment is against the law. There are federal and state laws that provide very specific protections for protected statuses. If you have been the victim of workplace harassment, learning your options for putting an end to the harassment is the first thing you need to do.

Source: United States Department of Labor, “What do I need to know about…Workplace Harassment?,” accessed July 16, 2015

FEMALE LIFEGUARD ALLEGES HARASSMENT, CASE FINALLY SETTLED

Some people who read our blog might remember the show “Baywatch” that starred Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff. That show made the life of a lifeguard in California look almost magical. It seems as though the lifeguards were always having fun and living a glamorous life. That, however, is far from reality, especially if you consider the case that was recently settled regarding a female lifeguard.

The lawsuit alleged that a female lifeguard was subjected to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment during her time with the lifeguard division of the Fire Department. The woman alleges that the sexual harassment began long before she joined the division when she was 19. She claims that a supervisor with the division tried to get her to leave school with him when she was only 14.

Fast forward to her time as a lifeguard. She claims that once she joined the lifeguard division at 19, that same supervisor made sexually inappropriate comments and looked at her in an inappropriate manner. She claims the man also resented her for wanting to become a supervisor because he didn’t like seeing females in supervisor positions.

She also alleges that the man caused her to suffer injuries after making her ride on a rescue sled attached to his own personal watercraft. That led to him trying to get her to lie about what happened. When she didn’t lie and brought up the harassing behavior, she says that the supervisor and others in the division tried to scare her into not working or not speaking of the incidents.

The harassment this woman went through was horrible. Nobody who is trying to earn a living should have to deal with that type of behavior. If you have had to deal with similar situations, you have the option to explore ways to make the harassment stop.

Source: Eagle Rock Patch, “Sexual Harassment, Retaliation Lawsuit by Female Lifeguard Settled,” Mirna Alfonso, June 29, 2015

FIGHTING SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENTS

Sexual harassment and a hostile work environment can affect people in every line of work. As we discussed here last week, low-wage workers are more likely to suffer from these problems for a variety of reasons. It is important to remember that just because someone is considered a low-wage worker, that doesn’t mean that they should have to deal with a hostile work environment or sexual harassment.

Uncomfortable behaviors in the workplace aren’t conducive to top-quality work. In fact, if you are being sexually harassed or if you have to deal with a hostile work environment, you might find that your productivity suffers. You might not feel comfortable at work. You might always have to look over your shoulder. Your supervisors might be putting too much on your plate. In all of those cases, you might not be able to do the work you are capable of doing.

It is important for anyone who is being subjected to these situations to know that they don’t have to deal with them. You have rights that are afforded by the law. You can assert your rights and work to stop the harassing behavior that you are dealing with at work.

We can discuss your case with you and help you to understand what options you have to stop the harassment or hostile work environment. Once you understand what you can do, we can help you along the path you choose. You don’t have to fight against your workplace alone. Instead, we can stand beside you to help you ensure that your legal rights remain protected.

LOW-WAGE WORKERS LIKELY TO SUFFER FROM HARASSMENT AT WORK

A hostile workplace can affect any worker; however, low-wage workers often have a more difficult time proving sexual harassment and other similar issues in court. This is because the court often upholds a very narrow definition of which employees are classified as supervisors.

In some cases, a supervisor is someone who is in charge of other workers. That definition, however, is often narrowed by adding in the stipulation that only the employees who are in charge of other workers and who can hire and fire employees are supervisors. With that narrow definition, harassment by low-level supervisors is often overlooked.

When it comes to the low-wage workforce, women outnumber men. In fact, women account for more than three-fourths of occupations that typically pay less than $10.10 per hour. This workforce category includes cashiers, personal care aides, home health aides, childcare workers, housekeepers and maids.

The women who are part of the low-wage workforce are often struggling. They usually have many different responsibilities and can’t afford to have their income jeopardized because of harassment.

One industry that has a marked problem with harassment by supervisors is the restaurant industry. This industry pays very low wages, which means that restaurant employees who are harassed by supervisors can’t usually cope with the effects. An example would be a worker who had her hours cut by a supervisor who was upset about denied sexual advances.

Any employee, regardless of pay rate, should understand that a hostile workplace full of sexual harassment and other actions isn’t something he or she has to deal with. The law protects workers from sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Source: National Women, “Reality check: Seventeen million reasons low-wage workers need strong protections from harassment,” accessed May. 08, 2015

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT A HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT?

Nobody wants to work in a place that is hostile; however, some employees are subjected to conditions that make the workplace hostile. While there aren’t any federal laws against a hostile workplace, there are some instances in which a hostile workplace might fall under other laws.

What causes a workplace to be hostile?

A variety of factors can lead to a hostile workplace. A coworker who is bullying you might make the workplace hostile. A boss who plays favorites can do the same, as can a non-employee who is harassing you. It doesn’t matter who is causing the workplace to be hostile. It only matters how the workplace is hostile when it comes to the legal side of the matter.

What kind of hostile workplace is against the law?

If the hostile workplace is caused by forms of discrimination or harassment that violate federal laws, then the hostile workplace is illegal. For example, if a person is making crude sexual jokes, that is illegal. If a person is discriminating based on age, gender, race, religion or similar factors, the law is being broken.

How can I fight these situations?

You have the right to file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Generally, that must occur before you can take other legal action against your employer. It is important to know that you don’t have to deal with the hostile workplace. If you are unsure about your legal ground for filing complaints, you can seek out answers to your questions so that you understand what your options are to get the hostility to stop.

Source: EmployeeIssues.com, “Hostile Work Environment,” accessed April. 24, 2015

SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN SPORTS IS COMMON, CALIFORNIA IS NO EXCEPTION

Last week, we let our readers know about how Ronda Rousey is taking a stand against sexual harassment in MMA gyms. Those aren’t the only gyms that sexual harassment is prevalent in. Unfortunately, many athletes face sexual harassment from coaches and other players. Our California readers might be interested to know more about this horrible trend.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education notes that any form of sexual harassment is a violation of ethical boundaries. The association further notes that sexual harassment has a significant impact on an athlete’s performance in various areas, including personal performance, athletic performance and academic performance. Sexual relationships between coaches and athletes are considered unprofessional and an abuse of professional power.

There are several different situations that constitute forms of sexual harassment. The relationships that can lead to sexual harassment include two athletes, a coach and an athlete, an athletic director and an athlete, an assistant coach and a coach, and a coach and an athletic director. In all of these relationships, there can be elements, such as seeking sexual favors that can lead to sexual harassment claims.

Other forms of sexual harassment that are considered inappropriate according to the association include spreading rumors about sexual activities, dirty jokes, self-touching or discussing personal sexual encounters or displaying sexually graphic materials. In a general sense, almost anything of a sexual nature in a gym could be considered sexual harassment.

Athletes rely on their coaches to give them professional assistance and guidance. When coaches fail to do so and begin to act in a sexual manner, the athlete has the right to put a stop to those unwanted actions. Learn about your options so you can stop it as soon as possible.

Source: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, “Sexual Harassment in Athletic Settings” accessed Mar. 13, 2015