Harassment At Work

Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.


Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Very generally, “sexual harassment” describes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Title VII is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion, and it applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments.

Sexual harassment is one of the most subtle forms of discrimination. Often victims of sexual harassment in the workplace do not receive lower pay, nor get passed over for promotions, nor get fired because of their gender. Rather, sexual harassment discrimination occurs when someone can no longer do their job because their workplace has become permeated with sexual innuendo and other inappropriate behavior.

Sexual harassment is usually divided into two main categories:

  1. Quid Pro Quo is the more overt form and refers to an individual in a position of power demanding sexual favors or acts in return for action or inaction, such as a promotion or promising not to terminate the employee or person of lesser power who is the subject of the harassment. A single sexual advance may constitute harassment if it is linked to the granting or denial of employment or employment benefits.
  2. A hostile environment is the more common type of sexual harassment, but more difficult to prove. This exists when an employee is made to feel uncomfortable and suffers emotional and/or mental strain due to frequent exposure to offensive sexual talk and jokes, repeated unwelcome sexual advances, although there is no threat to the employee’s advancement in the work place or continued employment. This type of sexual harassment is that which is continually being interpreted and re-interpreted by case law and legislative actions.A hostile-environment claim usually requires proof of a pattern of offensive conduct. Nevertheless, a single, unusually severe incident of harassment may be sufficient to constitute a Title VII violation; the more severe the harassment, the less need to show a repetitive series of incidents.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

Whether you are an employee or student victimized by unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, a sexual harassment lawyer can help. Sexual harassment lawyers can advise you on key steps to take to avoid continued harassment, and decide whether a lawsuit is necessary in your case.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for establishing and administering guidelines and regulations addressing sexual harassment. When filing a claim by way of the EEOC, the employee may seek the following remedies: reinstatement of employment if he/she has been terminated; a promotion that was unfairly denied; an award of lost wages and other job-related losses; punitive money damages; and injunctive relief, which orders the offender to cease the unwanted sexual harassment, to create a comprehensive written sexual harassment policy and to pay the employee’s attorney’s fees.

Thomas Elliott

Education: Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York. Pace University, White Plains, New York.
Professional Associations and Memberships: American Bar Association, New York State Bar, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Brooklyn Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

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