Sexual Harassment in the work environment is unlawful. However, what constitutes sexual harassment under the law involves complex analysis which should be reviewed by qualified and experienced attorneys (ideally, who are board certified in labor and employment law). There are many laws which prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. There are Federal Laws which prohibit an employer from sexually harassing its employees. These laws are part of Title VII enacted by Congress in 1964 and protect employees, in part, from severe or pervasive sexually charged work environments, and prohibit quid pro quo, which means favorable treatment in exchange for sex. Additionally, most States have similar laws which prohibit sexual harassment. In Florida, Florida Statute Chapter 760 (Also known as the Florida Civil Rights Act) adopts the federal regulations and the Supreme Court of Florida has specifically stated:
Florida Civil Rights Act
The Florida Civil Rights Act is patterned after the 1964 federal statute, Title VII, and that the state statutory cause of action has been defined according to federal case law. The state statute provides broader coverage than the federal one, as it includes provisions barring discrimination for age, handicap or marital status, as well as race, color, religion, sex and national origin. However, its general language, which is applicable to this case, follows that of the federal statute:
(1) It is an unlawful employment practice for an employer:
(a) To discharge or fail or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.
Barnes v. Train (1974) is commonly viewed as the first sexual harassment case in America, even though the term “sexual harassment” was not used. In 1976, Williams v. Saxbe established sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination when sexual advances by a male supervisor towards a female employee, if proven, would be deemed an artificial barrier to employment placed before one gender and not another. In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued regulations defining sexual harassment and stating it was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the 1986 case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court first recognized “sexual harassment” as a violation of Title VII, established the standards for analyzing whether the conduct was welcome and levels of employer liability, and that speech or conduct in itself can create a “hostile environment.” The Civil Rights Act of 1991 added provisions to Title VII protections including expanding the rights of women to sue and collect compensatory and punitive damages for sexual discrimination or harassment, and the case of Ellison v. Brady resulted in rejecting the reasonable person standard in favor of the “reasonable woman standard” which allowed for cases to be analyzed from the perspective of the complainant and not the defendant. Also in 1991, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. became the first sexual harassment case to be given class action status, paving the way for others. Seven years later, in 1998, this case would establish new precedents for setting limits on the “discovery” process in sexual harassment cases, and allowing psychological injuries from the litigation process to be included in assessing damages awards. In the same year, the courts concluded in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, Florida, and Burlington v. Ellerth, that employers are liable for harassment by their employees. Moreover, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services set the precedent for same-sex harassment, and sexual harassment without motivation of “sexual desire”, stating that any discrimination based on sex is actionable so long as it places the victim in an objectively disadvantageous working condition, regardless of the gender of either the victim, or the harasser.
Claims – Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment claims fall into gender discrimination and permit victims to sue their employer for damages which may include back-pay, front-pay, punitive damages, attorney fees, costs, and compensatory damages. The employee bringing the claim must prove the elements of the case, these are commonly known as the prima facie elements. Generally speaking, and employee is required to prove by the greater weight of the evidence (preponderance of the evidence) that he/she was harassed because of their gender, that the harassment was severe or pervasive, that the harassment caused a material change in the working environment (otherwise known as a material adverse employment action) and that he/she suffered damages as a result of the sexual harassment (In certain situations, an employee may recover nominal damages if tangible damages are not present). Once the employee meets the intial burden, then the employer has the burden to show a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer is able to articulate such a reason, then it falls on the employee, once again, to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reason is false, or otherwise, that the employee’s gender played a motivating factor in the adverse employment action.
Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. Often, but not always, the harasser is in a position of power or authority over the victim (due to differences in age, or social, political, educational or employment relationships). Forms of harassment relationships include:
- The harasser can be anyone, such as a client, a co-worker, a teacher or professor, a student, a friend, or a stranger.
- The victim does not have to be the person directly harassed but can be anyone who finds the behavior offensive and is affected by it.
- While adverse effects on the victim are common, this does not have to be the case for the behavior to be unlawful.
- The victim can be any gender. The harasser can be any gender.
- The harasser does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser may be completely unaware that his or her behavior is offensive or constitutes sexual harassment or may be completely unaware that his or her actions could be unlawful. Adapted from the U.S. EEOC definition
- Misunderstanding between Female-Male Communication: It can result from a situation where one thinks he/she is making themselves clear, but he/she is not understood the way he/she intended. The misunderstanding can either be reasonable or unreasonable. An example of unreasonable is when a man holds a certain stereotypical view of a woman such that he did not understand the woman’s explicit message to stop.(Heyman, 1994)
Each case is different, and every case needs to be evaluated by a qualified employment law attorney who may properly assess the merits of the case, as well as assess the possible value of the case.
Speciality – Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Our firm has successfully litigated numerous sexual harassment cases. Though most cases settle through mediation, Arcadier and Associates has successfully litigated, through jury verdict, a significant amount of sexual harassment cases. We also handle our own appeals and have an excellent appellate record.
Arcadier and Associates is highly regarded as a Top Attorney by AVVO.
Lawyer Maurice Arcadier | Top Attorney Sexual Harassment
If you believe you have been a victim of sexual harassment, and your case is in Florida, you may contact us so that we may properly evaluate your case. Attorney Maurice Arcadier dedicates his practice to employment and business law issues with a particular concentration to sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases.
At Arcadier and Associates, Sexual Harassment and Civil Rights Law is our specialty. We have attorneys who are dedicated in practicing Sexual Harassment law available to help you.. We have over 20 years of combined experience. Mr. Arcadier, the managing partner, is board certified in labor and employment law and is AV rated by the reputable rating standard established by MartinDaleHubble and Lawyers.com.
For more information, please contact us, or you may click on the sample below of real sexual harassment cases we have successfully litigated including published opinions.
- Tom Rolfe v. City of Palm Bay (Brevard, County). Tried in Viera, Florida
- Blizzard v. Appliance Direct (Melbourne)
- Stebbins v. Appliance Direct (Orlando, Central Florida, Middle District Federal Court)
- Summer Mack v. Novo Novartis (Orlando Florida, Middle District Federal Court).
- Susan Kirby v. Appliance Direct (Orlando, Central Florida, Middle District Federal Court)
- Pam Sapp v. Appliance Direct (Case currently being tried in Viera, Melbourne, Florida, Brevard County).