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Scared of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace? 3 Legal Remedies You Should Know

Experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace can be an overwhelming experience.  Just ask the 81% of women and 20% of men in Pennsylvania who have experienced this form of harassment in the last year alone.

When you are being sexually harassed on a daily basis, it can often seem like there is no end in sight.  You may feel like you do not have any options, especially if you have already talked to your employer about what you have been experiencing.

If this sounds familiar, there is a solution: there are several remedies under both federal and Pennsylvania law designed to prevent and protect against this illegal conduct.  The lawyers at The Law Firm of Fenters Ward are here to help you explore your options under the law.

Remedies Under Pennsylvania Law

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits workplace discrimination based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • Ancestry;
  • Age;
  • Sex;
  • National origin;
  • Handicap; and
  • Disability

The category “sex” encompasses sexual harassment complaints both in the workplace and as related to public accommodations. Sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination based on gender.

Sexual harassment laws protect you if you are being harassed based on your gender.  It does not matter what gender you identify as. Furthermore, it is possible to be sexually harassed by a person of the same sex.

It does not matter what your harasser’s sexuality is.  If the person’s conduct is harassing in nature, it can be classified as sexual harassment.

What Counts As Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment can be defined as any unwanted conduct direct at a person because of his or her gender.  There are two types of sexual harassment:

  1. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: This is when an employer makes job decisions based on sexual conduct.
  2. Hostile Work Environment Harassment: This is when an employee is forced to work in an abusive and offensive work environment. For the environment to be bad enough to be considered sexual harassment, the abusive conduct must be so severe that it would affect the workplace for the average person.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature is considered sexual harassment when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;
  2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or
  3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

When courts are determining what constitutes sexual harassment, they evaluate the record as a whole and the totality of the circumstances, including the nature of the sexual advances and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred.  The legality of a particular action is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment 

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin term that literally translates to “this for that.”  It occurs when a supervisor conditions portions of your employment on your willingness to engage in sexual conduct.  Common examples include:

  • Demotion for refusing to engage in such conduct;
  • Termination for refusing to engage in this conduct;
  • Being passed over for promotions because of unwillingness to engage in sexual conduct;
  • Denial of employment benefits; and
  • Denial of payment.

This form of sexual harassment can be either implicit or explicit.  Implicit quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when your supervisor hints or implies that submission to sexual conduct affects your job performance.  Explicit quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when your supervisor tells you directly that you must engage in certain conduct or you risk losing benefits or your job.

If you suspect you are a victim of this type of sexual harassment, visit our page on quid pro quo sexual harassment to learn more about your legal options.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment 

Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when you are subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, innuendos, or offensive gender-related language while at work.  This conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive from the perspective of a reasonable person of the same gender as the offended employee.

To succeed on a claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment, you must show that:

  1. You were subject to unwelcome sexual harassment;
  2. The harassment was based on your gender;
  3. The harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to alter the conditions of your employment and create a hostile work environment; and
  4. The relationship between your employer and harasser is sufficient enough to confer liability on your employer for the actions of your harasser.

If this sounds anything like your workplace, don’t hestitate to explore your legal options.  Visit our page on hostile work environment sexual harassment to learn more.

Who is Legally Liable for Sexual Harassment?

Under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, sexual harassment by supervisors, coworkers, and even people who are not employees of the company is illegal.  Your company has a duty under the PHRA to provide a harassment-free workplace.

In fact, if your employer is aware that you are being harassed and fails to enact measures to protect you, it can be held liable.  An employer, employment agency, joint apprenticeship committee, or labor organization is responsible for not only its own acts, but also the acts of its agents and supervisory employees with respect to sexual harassment, regardless of whether the employer knew or should have know of its occurrence.

But it is important to note that under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, only companies with four or more employees count as an employer.

How Can I Recover under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act?

If any of these situations sound like something that you or someone you know has experienced, you may have a sexual harassment claim against your employer.  In order to file it, you must file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

However, it is important to note that you usually only have 180 days after the incident to file your complaint.  Thus, it is important to reach out to an attorney as soon as possible to explore your options.  The employment lawyers at the Law Firm of Fenters Ward are here to help.

What can I recover under the PHRA?

When filing a claim under the PHRA, if you are successful, it is possible to recover damages for the sexual harassment that you have experienced.  This includes:

  • Injunctive relief (to prevent your employer from engaging in sexual harassment in the future);
  • Reinstatement or hiring;
  • Back pay; and
  • Any other legal or equitable relief deemed appropriate by the court.

Legal and equitable relief may include relief for mental and emotional anguish. The PHRA does not allow for the recovery of punitive damages.  However, unlike its federal counterpart, the PHRA does not have a cap on damages awarded to a party bringing a claim.

Remedies Under Federal Law

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from discrimination based on:

  • Race;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • Sex; and
  • National origin.

Like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, under Title VII, sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination based on gender and falls into the protected category of “sex.”

Under federal law, conduct is considered sexual harassment if it is undesired, or engenders a hostile, intimidating, or uncomfortable workplace for workers.  Further when the following conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment it can be considered sexual harassment.  This includes:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances;
  • Requests for sexual favors; and
  • Other verbal or physical conduct of a harassing nature.

Sexual harassment occurs in a wide variety of circumstances:

  • The victim or 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 such as a contractor.
  • The victim does not necessarily have to be the person harassed. It can be anyone who was affected in some way 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.

Victims of sexual harassment who file with the EEOC can resolve the case in several ways, including:

Under Federal Law, Who is Liable?

Like the PHRA, your employer may be liable for Title VII sexual harassment by a supervisor or individual in a management position.  This is true regardless of whether the employer knew or should have known of the occurrence of the sexual harassment.

When the conduct in question occurred between fellow employees, an employer is responsible only if the employer knew or should have known of the sexual harassment, unless the employer can show that it took immediate and appropriate corrective action.

When Can I Recover Under Federal Law?

If you have experienced something similar to any of these situations, you may be able to file a sexual harassment claim against your employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In order to do so, you must first submit a claim through the EEOC. There are several ways to do this.

It is important to remember that when filing with the EEOC, you have only 300 days after the incident occurred to submit a claim through the EEOC.  Further, your employer must have fifteen or more employees to be an employer under Title VII.

To make sure your claim is filed on time, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to go through your options.

What can I recover under Title VII? 

If you are successful in filing a claim under Title VII, you could potentially be entitled to:

  • Injunctive relief (to prevent your employer from engaging in this act in the future);
  • Front pay;
  • Back pay;
  • Compensatory damages; and
  • Punitive damages.

However, unlike under the PHRA, a federal statute caps the combined value of compensatory and punitive damages available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This cap is determined based on the size of the employer:

  • 15-100 employees: $50,000
  • 101-200 employees: $100,000
  • 201-500 employees: $200,000
  • 501 + employees: $300,000.

This cap applies to each victim in the case.  Thus, if there are two people bringing the claim against an employer with 75 employees, each is entitled to receive up to $50,000 total in compensatory and punitive damages.

Help is Just A Call or Click Away

The Law Firm of Fenters Ward has a special step-by-step EEOC claim-filing package, to ensure not only that your claim is filed, but that you are able to sue your employer.  For more information on the services that we provide, contact us by filling out this contact form or by calling 877-259-WARD.

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