What Is Sexual Harassment?

What Is Sexual Harassment?

In 2008, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) reported that 13,867 sexual harassment charges were filed nationwide which resulted in. $47.4 million dollars in liability for U.S. companies. Sexual harassment is alive and well in our country and employers need to protect themselves from potential liability for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a subset of sex discrimination that is prohibited by federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is also prohibited by most state and local laws.

There are two kinds of sexual harassment; quid pro quo and hostile work environment. The EEOC defines Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment as existing when there are unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (1) Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual. Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment is the situation when a manager says “sleep with me or you will be fired”. It is when a manager (it must be a manager because only a manager has the power to control the terms and conditions of the subordinate’s employment) requests sexual favors in exchange for promises of job advancement or threatens job detriment for a refusal to perform sexual favors.

The other type of sexual harassment is “hostile work environment” harassment. This exists when there are unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

The Law

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sex, race, color, religion and national origin.
  • Title VII applies to all employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Most state fair employment laws prohibit sexual harassment as well.
  • These state laws usually apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Did You Know?

  • Employees who complain about harassment are protected from any retaliation for reporting the harassment
  • An important element of harassment is that the conduct be “unwelcome”
  • Same sex harassment also violates the law
  • Harassment based on pregnancy is also considered sexual harassment
  • Harassment of any protected class violates the law. See Unlawful Harassment Page.
  • What Is Sexual Harassment?

Can You Afford To Not Comply?

  • $11.6 million dollar award against Madison Square Garden for sexual harassment by Coach Isiah Thomas
  • Mitsubishi settles class action with the EEOC for over $34 million dollars-the largest class action sexual harassment settlement ever
  • $6.8 million dollar awared against a logistics company in a sexual harassment lawsuit in Missouri
  • $26.6 million dollar award against Miller Brewing Company in a sexual harassment case
  • Astra USA settled a sexual harassment case for nearly $10 million dollars
  • Jury Award of $61 Million Dollars to two FedEx drivers of Lebanese descent when the drivers were harassed by their manager
  • Allied Aviation Services, Inc. agreed to settle a racial and national origin hostile work environment case brought by the EEOC for 1.9 million dollars

What The Law Requires

  • Have a well drafted sexual harassment policy which should include a complaint procedure
  • Provide training for your managers and employees
  • Take all complaints seriously
  • Conduct a prompt thorough investigation of any harassment complaints and/or any harassment your managers witness in the workplace
  • Take prompt corrective action to eliminate the harassment

How We Can Help

  • We can draft a sexual harassment policy for you that contains a complaint procedure
  • We can provide on-site or on-line training for your managers and employees
  • We can train your managers on how to conduct an effective discrimination and/or harassment investigation
  • We can conduct the discrimination and/or harassment investigation for you
  • We can assist you in determining the prompt corrective action that is required to eliminate the harassment

Cheesecake Factory Sued For Sexual Harassment


Cheesecake Factory Lesson for Employers: Never Ignore a Complaint of Sexual Harassment, Even If It Is Between Members of the Same Sex.

The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. learned this the hard way when they were recently sued by the EEOC for failing to respond to complaints by male Cheesecake Factory workers that they were being harassed by other male co-workers. The male employees complained to management at the restaurant about same-sex harassment but management ignored the complaints and allegedly did nothing. The EEOC attorney for the plaintiffs stated that “[a]ll employees, both men and women, have a right to work in a harassment free workplace”.

The lesson for employers is clear. When employees complain about harassment the law requires the employer to take action to eliminate the harassment and ensure that the workplace is harassment free. This is true whether the harassment is between members of the opposite sex or the same sex. In 1998, the US Supreme Court in the case of Oncale vs. Sundowner Offshore Services held that members of the same sex who harass each other are engaging in sexual harassment and that sexual harassment does not have to occur between members of the opposite sex. So employers should be careful to not ignore complaints of sexual harassment even if they occur between same-sex employees. Always take complaints of sexual harassment seriously and act immediately to eliminate any possible harassment in your workplace.