Sexual harassment at work can turn your life into a nightmare. The harasser is often someone in a position of authority. They have control over your salary, your performance reviews, and your continued employment. Each day is spent trying to avoid unwanted advances and each night is spent worrying that the harasser will become vindictive if those advances are continually rejected. It’s a terrible situation to find your ability to earn a living has been hijacked and is essentially being held for ransom. This is why sexual harassment is prohibited under both federal and Colorado law.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Colorado Revised Statutes § 24-34-402, sexual harassment is uninvited or unwelcome actions or behavior based on an employee’s sex. These actions include sexual advances or other verbal or physical sexual behavior. Per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, instances of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to the following:
- The victim can be a woman or a man and does not have to be the opposite sex;
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, an agent of the employer, or even a non-employee;
- The victim does not have to be the person who is being harassed, but can be anyone who finds the conduct offensive;
- Harassment can occur without the victim suffering economic damage or loss of employment;
- Harassment may occur outside of work, such as at an office party or company function;
- Nevertheless, the conduct of the harasser must always be unwelcome;
- In general, sexual harassment falls into one of two broad categories – quid pro quo and hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo is Latin for “this for that.” A victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment is made to choose between some negative workplace action, such as termination or a poor performance review, or submitting to an unwanted sexual advance. A negative employment action based on a rejection of an unwanted advance is also considered quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Conduct that is intimidating or offensive to a reasonable person can create a hostile work environment. This conduct can include:
- Repeated unwanted sexual requests,
- Inappropriate comments or personal questions,;
- Offensive jokes, slurs, or name calling,;
- Placing sexually offensive visual material such as pornography in the victim’s workplace or in plain view of the victim,; or
- Criminal sexual conduct such as inappropriate touching or indecent exposure.
To be actionable, the conduct must be pervasive enough to create an environment that a reasonable person would consider hostile, intimidating, or abusive. Petty incidents and annoyances are usually not considered illegal.
Employer Liability for Sexual Harassment
An employer is responsible for the harassing behavior of any employee or, under certain circumstances, a non-employee like a customer or supplier as long as certain conditions are met. These include:
- Whether the employer had knowledge of the behavior in question;
- Whether the victim suffered any negative employment action;
- Whether the victim reported the behavior to the employer and the manner of the reporting; and
- What steps the employer has taken to prevent the behavior in question and sexual harassment in general.
It is important to note that a person who is subjected to sexual harassment needs to utilize any system put into place by their employer to stop or prevent harassment or discrimination from occurring. A failure to do so may allow the employer to say that procedures were in place to mitigate and prevent harassment, but the employee failed to take advantage of these procedures and stop the complained-of behaviors from happening.
Actions to Take When Sexual Harassment Occurs
If you are exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace, you must behave proactively, not only to end the harassment but also to protect your interests should a lawsuit become necessary. These actions include:
- Leave no doubt that you are rejecting all sexual advances and overtures;
- Report each incident of harassment to your employer;
- Document every incident and every report of an incident that you make; and
- Consult with an experienced Colorado sexual harassment attorney.
It is possible that rejecting advances, as well as reporting and documenting harassing behavior, will not stop the behavior from occurring. In such a case, a Claim of Discrimination must be filed with either the EEOC or the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) to preserve your right to proceed against your employer in court. In addition, the Claim of Discrimination must be filed within very specific time frames – 300 days for the EEOC and 180 days for the CCRD. A failure to file a Claim of Discrimination within these time frames will result in a loss of the right to pursue a sexual harassment claim under Title VII or Colorado law.
Available Remedies for Sexual Harassment
A victim of sexual harassment has several remedies available that can help him or her them recover the damages caused by the harasser’s behavior. To begin with, there are monetary damages which may include the value of lost wages and benefits, damages for emotional distress, and where applicable, punitive damages. It should be noted that damages for emotional distress and punitive damages can be capped depending on the size of the employer’s business. A victim can also be awarded attorney fees and the costs associated with litigating the sexual harassment case. The court can order an employer to reinstate an employee who was terminated or issue an injunction that prohibits the employer from committing future acts of sexual harassment.
Talk To An Experienced Sexual Harassment Attorney Today
Employment discrimination law is complex, and employers will often make every effort to fight discrimination charges made against them. At Marathon Law, LLC, we use our knowledge of employment discrimination law and our experience in handling employment discrimination cases to get the results that our clients deserve. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation at 303-704-1222, or via our website contact page.