Rights of Those Accused of Sexual Harassment
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What Are the Rights of Those Accused of Sexual Harassment?
If you are facing allegations of sexual harassment, it is important to take them seriously and prepare your defenses.In a civil case, you have the right to present your case and should receive a fair, impartial and speedy trial. If criminal charges have been filed (which is more rare), you have additional rights.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Federal, state, and citywide laws all prohibit sexual harassment. While the definitions may vary slightly from jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction, sexual harassment can typically be categorized as either:
- Quid pro quo: demanding sexual favors in exchange for job stability or advancement, or
- Hostile work environment: a workplace environment that is sexually demeaning, hostile, or intimidating.
Both men and women are victims of sexual harassment. While most sexual harassment claims are made against supervisors or co-workers, other individuals (such as subcontractors and customers) can also be liable.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal sexual harassment laws (such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts). Most (but not all) states have similar agencies that enforce state laws.
What Legal Defenses Are There If a Person Is Accused of Sexual Harassment?
There are a series of defenses available to sexual harassment defendants. Many of these defenses involve a detailed analysis of the alleged victim’s case and the application of procedural rules. (If you need help, contact an experienced sexual harassment lawyer.)
Failure to Prove the Elements of a Sexual Harassment Case
In order to win a sexual harassment claim, the alleged victim must prove his or her “prima facie case.” In other words, the victim must prove each and every legal element of a sexual harassment claim. Otherwise, the claim will be unsuccessful.
Generally, the required elements of a sexual harassment claim are:
- The victim was a member of a protected class,
- He or she was subjected to unwelcome harassment based on his or her sex or gender,
- The harassment led to either a hostile work environment or a negative employment action (such as termination or demotion), and
- The employer is liable for the harassment.
As part of your defense, you should evaluate the alleged victim’s claim and arguments. If he or she does not have evidence supporting a required element of sexual harassment, you can use this as a defense.
For example, in a federal sexual harassment claim involving a co-worker (rather than a supervisor or other business leader), the victim must show that he or she reported the offensive behaviors to management and the company failed to stop the harassment. If the victim never complained about harassment, the employer is not liable.
And, a single offensive act is rarely enough to win a sexual harassment case (unless the harassing behavior is incredibly offensive or harmful). Instead, alleged victims typically must prove a pattern of harmful and offensive behaviors.
Failure to Meet Procedural Requirements
In addition to meeting the legal requirements of a sexual harassment claim, the alleged victim must also follow a series of strict procedural and administrative rules. Noncompliance with these rules will result in a case’s dismissal.
In most sexual harassment cases, the victim must:
- File an administrative complaint with the EEOC or a similar state agency,
- Participate in an agency investigation of the claim, and
- Wait until the agency issues a “Right to Sue” letter before filing a lawsuit.
If a lawsuit is filed before the victim receives a “Right to Sue” letter, the claim will typically be dismissed.
Additionally, each of these steps involves strict time limits. If one of these deadlines is missed, the case cannot go forward. In federal sexual harassment cases, the victim must file an EEOC complaint (or charge) within either 180 or 300 days of the harassment. Once the EEOC issues a “Right to Sue” letter, a federal lawsuit must be filed within 90 days.
State laws vary dramatically. If you need help understanding your state’s procedural requirements, contact a lawyer.
In a criminal case, you may have other defenses. For example, most criminal charges require proof that your actions were intentional. And, criminal sexual harassment cases require a higher burden of proof. The government and victim must prove every element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If they cannot do this, the court cannot issue a guilty verdict.
What Will Not Work as a Defense to Sexual Harassment?
However, you typically cannot present the following arguments as a defense:
- The victim and the harasser were the same sex,
- The harassment was based on inaccurate assumptions about the victim’s gender or sexual orientation, and
- The victim had a history of sexual promiscuity (in most cases)
Remember, every case is different. Do not assume that every defense is available in your case. Instead, you must analyze the facts and law that apply in your situation.
Do I Need a Defense Lawyer?
Sexual harassment law involves a complicated legal and factual analysis. Without the help of a skilled employment lawyer (or a criminal defense lawyer), you may miss important defenses. If an EEOC charge or sexual harassment lawsuit is filed against you, it is in your best interest to hire a lawyer immediately.
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Last Modified: 05-07-2017 10:46 PM PDT
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