Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment in the work place was made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual conduct that is “severe” and “pervasive” to the point that it affects the terms and conditions of an employee’s employment. Importantly, the harasser can even be a non-employee. This means that an employee can hold their employer liable if the employee is harassed by a third party such as a vendor or independent contractor.

Also, even if the harassment is not sexual in nature, it can be actionable. Harassment based on gender is outlawed. For instance, an employee who has his or her tools or locker destroyed; or, who has been the subject of comments about someone’s ability to do a job because of their status as a male or female they may have a cause of action against an employer.

What can employees do?

Many employers have mechanisms for reporting discrimination. They do this because an employee’s failure to take advantage of these mechanisms can be a defense to a discrimination claim. Therefore, employees should always take advantage of any procedures HR has in place. Many times the company will investigate and take immediate action, possibly remedying the situation

If this does not remedy the situation, an employee should consult with an attorney and consider filing a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights.

What if an employer retaliates?

Employees should be cognizant of their rights after they complain of sexual harassment. The Supreme Court has ruled that actions considered “materially adverse” are retaliatory. The Court has defined “materially adverse” as: job decisions that are harmful enough to deter a reasonable worker from complaining of harassment or discrimination.

For instance, if a worker is given less desirable work duties or shifts, that could be enough to entail retaliation. The worker does not have to be fired or have their pay cut. If these actions occur after an employee has filed a complaint with HR or another relevant body, they should consider contacting an attorney.