Sexual harassment can happen to anyone regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment in the workplace has always been an issue. However, in the wake of the #Metoo movement sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, more and more victims of workplace sexual harassment are now speaking up about workplace harassment and inequality that they’ve endured for far too long.
Last week we discussed Texas employers’ responsibilities after an employee reports discrimination, including instances involving hostile work environments. Here, we take a closer look at what constitutes a hostile work environment.
Under state and federal civil rights laws, Texas employers are prohibited from engaging in discrimination based on an employee’s sex, race, religion, national origin, age, disability, or pregnancy. Harassment is among the conduct that is prohibited under the anti-discrimination laws. Further, sexual harassment can include a wide range of offensive conduct. A few common examples of harassment are:
- offensive jokes
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex. Courts have long held that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Thus, employers who engage in sexual harassment or allow their employees to engage in such behavior without intervening violate Texas and federal anti-discrimination laws.
There are several types of sexual harassment. One of the most commonly seen type of sexual harassment is called “quid pro quo” harassment. Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning to get something for giving something. In the context of a sex discrimination lawsuit, quid pro quo harassment occurs when a supervisor propositions an employee, typically for sexual favors, in exchange for some employment benefit. For example, a manager who makes an employee’s raise contingent upon the employee going on a date with the manager has engaged in quid pro quo harassment.
Quid pro quo harassment also occurs when an employee suffers some kind of adverse employment outcome for refusing an employer’s sexual advances.
No Texas employee should have to deal with being harassed, whether it’s from coworkers, management, or even customers. Federal law provides employees who have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment several alternatives. Commonly, when an employee is harassed, the harassing individuals are also employees of the company. However, that no longer needs to be the case in certain circumstances.
In a recent federal court appellate opinion, the court discussed a situation in which a nurse’s sexual harassment and hostile work environment claim against her employer can proceed to trial for the conduct of a patient.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the case was brought by an experienced Certified Nursing Assistant who worked at the defendant nursing facility. The nurse was assigned to care for an elderly man who suffered from numerous mental health issues, including dementia. Over the course of several years, the patient regularly tried to grope the nurse, requested that she perform sexual acts on him, and routinely made sexually inappropriate comments. Further, the nursing facility was aware of the patient’s propensity to be sexually aggressive. After one incident, a supervisor told the nurse to “put her big girl panties on and go back to work.”
At the end of 2017, an international movement fighting against assault and sexual harassment began to take hold on social media. The hashtag #MeToo was utilized to illustrate the pervasive presence of harassment and sexual assault – specifically in the workplace. The catalyst for the movement came shortly after allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein, a well-known film producer. While the problem of sexual harassment and assault was only recently thrust into the public light, lawmakers have been taking steps to combat the reprehensible behavior for decades.In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) began to study the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite significant pressure from women’s advocates and widespread training for employers and employees, workplace sexual harassment is still a pressing issue. According to the EEOC, the Commission receives over 11,000 complaints each year. However, given the realistic threat of retaliation that people face when confronting or accusing perpetrators of abuse and harassment, the number of cases is underestimated.
According to the EEOC, it is illegal to harass any employee or applicant because of their sex. Common forms of Texas sexual harassment include behaviors such as unwanted sexual advances, invitations and requests for sexual favors, and other similar verbal or physical behaviors that are based on a person’s sex. Unfortunately, issues arise when the behavior is considered “teasing” or an off-hand comment, or if it occurs on an isolated occasion.
One in three women report being sexually harassed on the job in America. People started taking sexual harassment seriously when Anita Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment a little more than two decades ago, but only 3% of women who are sexually harassed file a formal complaint because although they want to leave, they need the income from their jobs.
Many people assume that sexual harassment is a result of a man’s sexual interest in a female employee. It’s often assumed that the man is inept or awkward or that the woman is lying or exaggerating. However, most sexual harassment is actually about power, rather than sex. Only about a quarter of sexual harassment cases are simply seductions gone awry, and very few are quid pro quo harassment cases, in which the man asks for a sexual favor in exchange for a promotion or for not firing the woman.
Sexual harassment is a way to keep women in their place and devalue a woman’s contribution in the workplace. Calling attention to a female worker’s sexuality is a way for someone with greater power to make her vulnerable. Often, women who are sexually harassed blame themselves. Most of the time, the people doing the harassing are men, but sometimes women in positions of power are accused of sexual harassment as well.