Sexual Harassment Lawyer in Birmingham
According to a 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report, roughly 40% of women in the U.S. have been subjected to harassment or assault at their place of employment. Women are not the only ones who can be victims of sex harassment, however, it can happen to men as well. Employers have a responsibility to maintain a work environment that is free of harassment. Failure to do so is a violation of federal law.
Since 2005, Attorney Kira Fonteneau has been an aggressive advocate on behalf of individuals who have experienced sex harassment at work. Fonteneau is a seasoned employment rights lawyer with a strong track record of success; she has favorable rulings for clients in both state and federal court. Kira understands what individuals go through when they are subjected to a hostile work environment because of their gender, and she works tirelessly to ensure that victims of sexual harassment receive the just compensation they are entitled to.
Federal Sex Harassment Laws
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, and national origin. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed as an amendment to Title VII, making it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 gave individuals more protections against discrimination at work, including allowing victims of sex harassment and sex discrimination the right to a trial by jury, as well the right to compensatory and punitive damages resulting from the harassment. Under federal law, employers with 15 or more employees are covered by anti-harassment statutes.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Sex harassment can be blatant or subtle, and it can come in many forms. The EEOC defines sexual harassment as:
…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.
Some examples of sex harassment in the workplace include:
- Gestures: Staring, looking at someone up and down, catcalling, and making offensive and lewd facial gestures of a sexual nature.
- Offensive Jokes: Telling dirty and lewd sex-based jokes or anecdotes in the workplace or making offensive jokes about a person’s sex, gender, pregnancy, or related medical condition.
- Suggestive Communication: Making constant suggestive comments, as well as writing notes, sending texts or emails, or any other form of communication that may constitute an unwanted sexual advance.
- Rude, Inappropriate or Offensive Comments: Making rude, inappropriate, derogatory, or otherwise offensive comments about a person’s body, the way they are dressed, their sexual orientation, or gender identity.
- Sharing Opinions or Images: Someone constantly giving his/her opinions about a sexual matter and/or sharing sexual images such as internet pornography.
- Asking Probing Questions: Managers, supervisors, or co-workers who continually ask personal questions about an individual’s sexual history or orientation.
- Sexual Displays: Signs, posters, and other types of displays in the workplace that could objectively be considered sexual.
- Repeated Unwanted Requests: Making sexual innuendos, requesting sexual favors, or constantly asking a person out.
- Quid Pro Quo: Offering employment opportunities in exchange for sexual favors or threatening employment consequences if sexual favors are not performed.
- Unwanted Physical Advances: Stalking, blocking a person’s physical movements, purposely brushing up against another person, inappropriate or unwanted touching of a person or their clothing, inappropriate or unwanted hugging, kissing, stroking, patting, or rubbing, and sexual assault.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
Not all inappropriate or offensive conduct is defined as sexual harassment under the law. The conduct must not only be offensive to the victim, it must be conduct that a reasonable person would find offensive. For example, if an employee invites a fellow co-worker to a social gathering with a group of employees after work, this invitation may not be seen as harassment to the average person.
If the conduct is seen as offensive to a reasonable person, it must also be “severe and pervasive” to meet the standard for harassment. This means the conduct must be occurring frequently or consistently or be considered egregious enough that one occurrence of it would be considered sex harassment. For example, if an employee asked a co-worker out one time, that may not constitute harassment. If, however, the co-worker is being asked out every day, that would be a different situation. Certain conduct only needs to occur once to be considered harassment, an obvious example of this would be sexual assault.
Manager vs. Co-Worker Harassment
When it comes to holding an employer responsible for sex harassment in the workplace, this depends largely on who the perpetrator is. If an employee is sexually harassed by someone in management, the employer can usually be held liable for the harassment, even if they had no prior knowledge the harassment was occurring and/or had no opportunity to prevent it. The situation is different when an employee harasses a co-worker who is a peer and not his/her subordinate. In such cases, the employer must first be notified of the harassment and given a chance to stop it. If the victim reports it to a manager or supervisor and nothing is done about the harassing conduct, then the employer can be held responsible.
Pursuing a Sex Harassment Case
If you have been subjected to unwelcome and objectively offensive sexual harassment in the workplace, you may have the right to take legal action against your employer. Before bringing a lawsuit, you must file an administrative charge with the EEOC. At our firm, we help our clients write their charges and guide them through the EEOC investigation. Once the Charge is filed, it may be investigated, and you may be invited to mediate the dispute with your employer, or take other actions. Once the claim has been processed, they will issue a “right to sue” letter. Once this letter is received, you may proceed with litigation against your employer.
There are very tight deadlines to initiate a sex harassment case. Most covered employees have 180 days to file a charge with the EEOC. Once you receive a “right to sue” letter, you have 90 days to initiate a lawsuit. Attorney Kira Fonteneau thoroughly understands the sexual harassment claims process, and she can assess your case and review your options to help you decide the best course of action. For a personalized consultation with Attorney Kira Fonteneau, contact our office today at (205) 564-9005.
If you feel your rights have been violated, schedule a free consultation with us.
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