Harassing a person in their workplace because of their gender is a form of discrimination. It occurs when one person engages in insulting or demeaning behavior towards another person because of their gender or the gender with which they identify.
The harassing conduct in gender harassment is not something of a sexual nature. Rather, gender harassment generally may involve stereotypes relating to the roles and functions associated with a particular gender. For example, insulting remarks directed towards a person simply because they are female would be considered a form of gender harassment.
Gender harassment is sometimes difficult to identify. It can be confused with sexual harassment. However, the behavior of a person who harasses a person because of their gender does not have to be sexual in nature to qualify as gender harassment. The behavior of the harasser needs only to be of a character that creates a hostile work environment for a person of a specific gender because of their gender.
Workplace gender harassment laws have much in common with federal Title IX laws. Title IX is a federal law designed to prevent gender harassment and discrimination in school settings. When it occurs in an employment or workplace setting, gender harassment can show up as offensive actions between two or more co-workers or a supervisor and a subordinate.
Most states also have some laws in place aimed at preventing gender harassment and protecting its victims. Subjecting a person to gender harassment in their workplace is considered a violation of a person’s civil rights.
What Are Some Examples of Gender Harassment?
Of course, there is a range of conduct that can lead to claims for gender harassment. The offending behavior may include the following actions:
- Inappropriate displays of material that offends a particular gender, e.g., an insulting comic or another type of graphic or visual content.
- Comments or remarks, e.g., an inappropriate joke or story, that are directed as an affront to people of a specific gender.
- Insults or derogatory actions directed at a person solely because of their gender.
- Remarks that continue to be made even after the person has requested that they stop or the person targeted has indicated to the alleged harasser that they are offensive.
- Actual physical contact, assault, or interference with the person based on hostility to an individual’s gender.
- Labeling an individual with an offensive nickname for their gender.
- Generalized sexist slurs.
- Obscene humor or jokes about sex or any gender in general.
- Degrading anecdotes.
- Nicknames that are derogatory of a person’s gender.
- Gender-based belittling of a person or patronizing comments about them.
Although the above list includes many main examples of conduct that can be considered gender harassment, cases may vary. Depending on the facts as well as the statutes that have been enacted to protect against gender-based harassment in each state.
Is an Employer Liable for the Gender-Based Harassment of One Worker by Another?
Equal employment opportunity laws cover the following:
- Private companies with at least 20 employees who have worked for a minimum of 20 weeks during the current calendar year or the past year.
- The federal government
- Public employers
- State and local governments
- Labor unions
The regulations that apply to covered employers state that companies may not do the following:
- Harass an employee based on their gender.
- Implement a policy in the workplace that has a harmful impact on only employees of a particular gender.
- Institute a pay structure or other practices that are based on gender or differentiate between employees on the basis of gender.
It should be noted that gender harassment is not the occasional remark or other act that may be harmful or otherwise reprehensible. The law protects workers from harassment that is persistent and pervasive.
An employer is liable for the conduct of its employees that constitutes gender harassment. A company that fails to comply with state and federal laws against gender harassment violates federal equal employment opportunity laws and possibly state laws as well.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law that makes sexual harassment unlawful. It was extended to include gender harassment in 1980 by the EEOC. An employee’s sexual harassment complaint may be investigated by the EEOC and the federal Department of Justice. These two entities may take action against the employer by ordering criminal and civil penalties.
There is a federal EEOC grievance procedure that an employee must follow within the limited time allowed if they want to pursue a claim charging an employer with gender harassment or discrimination.
The EEOC does not consider occasional isolated instances of inappropriate gender-based comments to qualify as gender harassment. Unlawful harassment is the kind of behavior that makes the workplace an environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to any reasonable person.
However, the EEOC recognizes continual offensive comments as illegal conduct. If unwanted remarks by an employer or one of its employees negatively affect an employee, inhibiting their ability to work, the company may be guilty of gender harassment.
An employer has an affirmative legal obligation to eliminate every form of gender harassment and discrimination from its workplace.
What Are the Legal Remedies for Gender Harassment?
A lawsuit alleging gender harassment can result in various outcomes for the parties. The most likely remedy for a victim would be an award of compensatory damages. The award of damages would compensate the victim for lost wages or salary and other economic losses from harassment. But the EEOC recognizes that the victim of gender harassment might not suffer any economic losses.
Other possible remedies are as follows:
- Removal or firing of the person responsible for the harassment, i.e., the alleged harasser.
- An award of compensatory damages for losses caused by the gender harassment incident, such as lost wages or lost business opportunities.
- Changes in a company’s workplace policies relating to gender harassment.
In some cases, gender harassment may also involve the elements of lawsuits for gender discrimination. In these cases, the legal remedies available may include the following:
- Reinstatement of the victim to their prior job position, for example, if the discrimination or harassment led to the firing of the harassed worker.
- An investigation into the workplace environment conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).
The EEOC would investigate because filing a complaint with the EEOC is often a requirement for discrimination cases before a lawsuit can be filed in a court of law.
Finally, some gender harassment cases may be filed as a class action lawsuit if a significant number of employees have been similarly affected by the same conduct.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Gender Harassment Claim?
Gender harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that may require a worker to take legal action if they want it to cease. If you believe you have been the victim of gender harassment, you want to consult an experienced discrimination lawyer.
Your lawyer can review the facts of your specific situation to determine if the behavior in your workplace rises to the level of gender harassment. Your attorney can guide you to the right approach, whether working with your employer to address the situation or filing a complaint with the EEOC or a state agency is the right approach.
Additionally, your attorney can also help you prepare the documents required to initiate a claim with the EEOC. Alternatively, an attorney can provide legal representation on your behalf in court if a trial should become necessary.
Finally, a qualified attorney can assess and predict what type of remedy may be available to you in your case.