If you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment, it’s important to have strong evidence supporting your claim. Documents and witnesses will help the judge understand the severity of your co-worker’s harassment and your employer’s failure to protect you. And, well-organized and detailed evidence will also help you receive fair compensation for the sexual harassment you endured.
The Elements of a Sexual Harassment Claim
Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment and same-sex harassment is also prohibited. While many sexual harassment lawsuits are filed in federal courts, you may also have a claim under state law. Typically, there are two types of sexual harassment claims:
- Quid pro quo (when a supervisor or other employee demands sexual favors in exchange for job security or a promotion), and
- Hostile work environment.
Most co-worker harassment claims relate to a hostile work environment. Typically, a single offensive act will not create a hostile work environment (unless the act was extremely serious or harmful). Instead, you must show an ongoing pattern of sexually offensive behaviors that a reasonable person would have found offensive and intimidating.
If a co-worker, contractor, customer, or other individual creates a hostile work environment or demands inappropriate sexual favors, your employer may be liable for damages if:
- The company knew (or reasonably should have known) of the harassment, and
- Did not take appropriate measures to stop the harassment.
You should report harassment promptly and cooperate with your employer’s investigation. If your employer refuses to help you or ignores your complaints, you should take legal action.
What Evidence Do I Need in a Sexual Harassment Case?
You cannot win a sexual harassment lawsuit without strong evidence supporting your claim. Typically, this evidence includes:
- Communications (including emails and voicemails) from the harasser,
- Your complaints and the company’s responses (or lack of a response),
- Your personnel or employment file,
- Your employee handbook and your employer’s written sexual harassment policies (if any),
- Testimony from witnesses, and
- Bills and other proof of harassment-related expenses.
Typically, you can request copies of your personnel file from your employer’s HR department. (You may have to pay a copying fee for these records.) However, other communications may be difficult to obtain without the help of a lawyer or government agency.
Should I Sue the Company or the Harassing Co-Worker?
Some states, including California, allow a sexual harassment victim to file a personal lawsuit against his or her co-worker (instead of the company). However, most sexual harassment victims file a claim against the company, not the harassing co-worker. First, your co-worker is considered an agent of the company. Your employer may be responsible for its agents’ work-related activities.
More importantly, your co-worker probably does not have deep financial resources. While you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against your co-worker, you may be unable to recover any damages if he or she is not solvent. In comparison, your employer probably has significant insurance policies and financial resources. If you file a lawsuit against your employer, it probably will have the financial ability to compensate you for your damages.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim
Victims of sexual harassment must follow a specific complaint process. If your employer does not protect you from a co-worker’s harassment, you typically must file a charge (or complaint) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before filing a lawsuit. The EEOC will investigate your case and may file a lawsuit on your behalf. If the EEOC does not pursue your claim, you will receive a Right to Sue letter. Once you have a Right to Sue letter, you may file a federal lawsuit against your employer.
Different rules may apply in state harassment claims and personal lawsuits against your co-worker. You also must meet strict filing deadlines in sexual harassment claims, which vary from state to state.
Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?
If you need help understanding the claim process and your rights, contact a local harassment lawyer experienced in sexual harassment claims . An experienced lawyer can help you collect evidence, file the correct paperwork, and help you receive fair compensation.