Our Award-Winning New York Employment Lawyer discusses a recent multi-million dollar jury verdict in a sexual harassment case. Sexual Harassment remains a serious problem in workplaces across the country. In Rennenger v. ToyQuest et al., female call center employees regularly were targets of offensive terms and comments including being called “sluts” and “whores” and carriers of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition to verbal harassment, the female employees were subjected to physical harassment – some were made to sit on a male co-worker’s lap and another had her head grabbed by her supervisor and forced into his crotch. One of the female employees, Danielle Renneager, was fired after she complained of sexual harassment and she brought a lawsuit. It is unlawful to retaliate against an employee who makes a good faith belief of sexual harassment. The jury awarded almost $12 million dollars including $10 million dollars in punitive damages. Cases involving other female employees are pending as well. There are two types of sexual harassment cases – hostile work environment and quid pro quo. This case falls into the first type and both are discussed briefly below.
HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
The first type of sexual harassment is called a “hostile work environment.” A hostile work environment may exist if an employee experiences discriminatory conduct or harassment in the workplace so severe or pervasive that he or she feels intimidated, ridiculed or insulted. As a result, the employee’s job performance is adversely affected. In order to legally constitute a hostile work environment, the environment must be considered “hostile” by you and by a reasonable person’s standard. The courts will evaluate the totality of the circumstances. In general, below are some examples of prohibited conduct:
- Unwelcome lewd jokes
- Derogatory gestures
- Pornography in the workplace
- Sexually degrading email messages, text messages, social media posts and pictures
Hostile work environment claims are very fact specific. Not all offensive conduct will form the basis for a hostile work environment claim. For example, a single instance such as an unwanted compliment may not rise to the standard required by federal law. Our New York Sexual Harassment lawyers are skilled in analyzing whether your work environment could be considered a hostile work environment under the law. Illustrative examples of sexual harassment include:
- Multiple requests for a date
- Unwanted comments about your clothing or body
- Telling rumors about your sex life
- Unwelcome kissing, hugging, patting or stroking
- Looking your body up and down
QUID PRO QUO SEXUAL HARASSMENT
The second type of sexual harassment is called “quid pro quo” harassment. Generally, this occurs where a supervisor requests sexual favors in exchange for promotions or another job-related benefit. For example, a supervisor, co-worker (or even a third-party vendor or client) may offer you a promotion, job benefit or some preferential treatment in exchange for a sexual favor. These types of cases are easier to recognize than hostile work environment claims and are not as common. In addition, continued employment that is dependent on a sexual or personal relationship with a manager or another person may also constitute “quid pro quo” harassment. Even if you have submitted to such an advance, you may be entitled to file a claim because your actions could have been made under duress.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE SEXUALLY HARASSED
1. It is imperative that you make it clear to the harasser that the offensive conduct is unwelcome and must be stopped. One of the keys in sexual harassment cases is that the conduct must be unwelcome.
2. Keep notes of each incident including the dates, times, the specific offensive conduct and whether there were any witnesses. Some cases involve harassment via text messages and email messages – you should preserve this information.
3. Speak with an experienced employment lawyer to obtain counsel and learn your rights and options. Each situation is different and requires specific analysis. Contact our office at (800) 893-9645 for a confidential consultation.
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