The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, color, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, medical condition, or marital status. The FEHA also requires employers to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent harassment from occurring.

Harassment includes, but is not limited to: verbal harassment (epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs on the basis of a protected characteristic); physical harassment (unwanted touching, rubbing against someone, assault, or any physical interference with normal work or movement); visual harassment (derogatory posters, cartoons, or drawings on the basis of a protected characteristic); sexual favors (unwanted sexual advances which condition an employment benefit upon an exchange of sexual favors).

Hostile Work Environment

To establish a claim of hostile environment harassment, an employee must show that the harassment complained of was (1) on the basis of a protected characteristic (such as sex, sexual orientation, race, national origin, religion, age, physical or mental disability, medical condition, or marital status) and (2) so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment. Under the FEHA, there is no requirement that an employee suffer a loss of tangible job benefits or actual injury.

Occasional, isolated, or trivial acts are usually not enough to meet the standard for a hostile work environment claim. A hostile environment may exist even if some of the hostility is directed at other workers, such as a case where racial slurs directed at other minorities contributes to the overall hostility of the working environment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious matter than may present serious consequences. It can happen to both men and women, irrespective of their position within a given company, and can be committed by people of the same gender as the victim. Sexual harassment in the workplace may take the form of either quid pro quo harassment or the creation of a hostile work environment. Quid pro quo harassment is when an employee’s subjection to sexual conduct is linked to the grant or denial of job benefits, such as getting or retaining a job, or receiving a favorable performance review or promotion. A hostile work environment is created when sexual conduct in the workplace has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has defined sexual harassment to include harassing behavior in the job such as requests for sexual favors, unwelcome sexual advances and other verbal or physical conduct that is sexual in nature. But the term encompasses a broad range of behaviors by supervisors, clients and co-workers. The following represents a non-exhaustive list:

  1. sexual gestures;
  2. derogatory comments, jokes and slurs;
  3. sexual advances and propositions;
  4. leering, touching, obstructing movement;
  5. threatening verbal abuse of a sexual nature;
  6. unwanted sexual advances;
  7. displaying suggestive objects, pictures or cartoons.

No matter how it manifests itself in the workplace, sexual harassment can have a significant mental and physical impact on victims. These victims often feel powerless, vulnerable and afraid to speak out about the wrongs they suffered. The Gillam Law Firm is sensitive to the needs of sexual harassment victims. Our lawyers are experienced in defending the rights of employees whose dignity has been violated by the misconduct of supervisors and co-workers. At The Gillam Law Firm, we act immediately upon accepting your case, and are committed to serving the legal needs of employees in matters of sexual harassment in the workplace. Please contact our office today to schedule a consultation and case evaluation.

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