Sexual harassment in the workplace is a much more common issue than employees may think. Employees may brush off conduct because they don’t want to “rock the boat”; however, sexual harassment is a serious issue that should not be tolerated. Sexual harassment claims are common nationwide and Arizona also has a high number of sexual harassment claims filed per year. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment in the workplace compromised a total of 28.4 percent of total state charges.
Being the victim of sexual harassment can be overwhelming. Not only can sexual harassment in the workplace negatively impact your job performance, but it can also blur the boundaries of professionalism and personal comfort. If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment, the first step to protecting your rights is to understand what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment claims in the workplace in Arizona are governed by both federal and state law. Under federal law, sexual harassment claims are ruled by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII sexual harassment is a sex discrimination claim and such claims are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Sexual Harassment Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: Federal Law
According to EEOCs synopsis of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment takes place when there are:
“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . . the conduct explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
When assessing a sexual harassment claim and its validity under Title VII, your attorney will parse every relevant portion of the Act to determine whether the actions committed against you constituted sexual harassment. For example, it may be arguable as to whether the sexual advances were “unwelcome” or if there were “requests” for sexual favors.
In a Title VII claim, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to provide evidence to support their claims. If the plaintiff brings enough facts to defend their claim, the burden then shifts to the defense to show that certain actions or omissions did not lead to sexual harassment in the workplace. To ensure that you are prepared at these critical stages of the case, it is best to be upfront with your attorney from the onset.
Arizona law also takes a tough stance against sexual harassment in the workplace. The Arizona Civil Rights Act, which is very similar to Title VII, also prohibits the same actions. In most cases though, a victim will file the claim under Title VII, since it is a violation of federal law and not just state law.
Conduct Amounting to Sexual Harassment
Oftentimes, boundaries can become blurred in terms of what type of conduct amounts to sexual harassment. A sexual harassment claim can go beyond simply touching, but can also constitute verbal or visual sexual misconduct that was unwanted by the opposing party. Other forms of sexual harassment include:
- Confiding information that is sexual in nature
- Inappropriate touching
- Sexual advances
- Sexual bullying
As was mentioned above, the plaintiff will need to prove that the activities amounted to any of the above actions. For example, the plaintiff will need to show that the defendant intentionally or knowingly confided in them information that was sexual in nature.
Types of Sexual Harassment
There are two forms of sexual harassment that can arise in the workplace. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment in the workplace can be Quid Pro Quo or Hostile Work Environment.
- Quid Pro Quo, “this for that” in Latin, occurs when an employer’s favors are contingent upon sexual advances. For example, quid pro quo harassment takes place when an employer tells an employee that their employment is dependent upon sexual favors. Another example of this type of harassment is when an employer demotes an employee for rejecting their sexual advances.
As with all sexual harassment claims, the plaintiff will need to prove that their job was contingent upon meeting sexual advances.
- Hostile Work Environment occurs when an employee claims that they are the victim of pervasive of severe harassment due to the conduct of the employer or other employees. This type of sexual harassment is more likely to arise in workplace claims because unlike quid pro quo, this type of harassment is also related to employee conduct. An example of a hostile work environment would be when a coworker makes sexual jokes or sexual remarks to other employees.
Reasonable Person Standard
It is imperative to point out that sexual harassment in the workplace is measured under a reasonable person standard if a hostile work environment was involved. The purpose of the reasonable person standard is to prevent parties from bringing false claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. Under the reasonable person standard, the conduct by a coworker or employer needs to be conduct that a reasonable person would deem to be sexual harassment.
Through the objective lens of the reasonable person standard, the court will be able to fairly assess whether the challenged conduct was truly sexual in nature. For example, if a coworker alleges that he or she was sexually harassed in the workplace because you constantly invited her to outings with other employees who were regularly spending time together after work, the court will likely determine that such actions were not sexual harassment. Most reasonable employees would not deem social invitations as sexual harassment.
Tyler Allen Law Firm
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that requires a legal team devoted to protecting your rights and reputation. If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, then the Tyler Allen Law Firm can provide you with the legal support that you need. Fill out our contact form or reach us at 602-456-0545 today to schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss your sexual harassment in the workplace claim.