Were you sexually harassed by a supervisor, co-worker, or client/customer? If so, you may be entitled to pursue a legal claim against your employer for the harm and loss you endured because they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or stop the harassment. Turn to a Tallahassee sexual harassment lawyer from Cruz Law Firm, P.A., for help demanding the justice and accountability you deserve.
Over the last decade, our firm has helped hardworking people like you recover from some of the most difficult situations involving workplace sexual harassment. Our legal team has brought more than a hundred cases to trial over their career, giving us deep familiarity with the Tallahassee court system. With our attorneys in your corner, you will know you have aggressive, dedicated advocates who will fight hard for the best possible result in your case. Our track record of success is reflected in the dozens of five-start client reviews and our many satisfied clients.
Reach out to Cruz Law for an initial case evaluation with a Tallahassee sexual harassment attorney. We can review your situation, explain your options, and tell you what we can do on your behalf, all without risk or obligation.
Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Common examples of behavior that constitutes workplace sexual harassment include:
- Sexual comments about an employee’s body or clothing
- Frequently standing unnecessarily close to an employee
- Repeatedly propositioning an employee for sex or dates
- Making obscene jokes or sexual innuendos
- Posting or sharing offensive or obscene photos or videos, such as pornography
- Talking about sexual acts or exploits in a graphic manner
- Asking employees about their sexual history, dating or marital status, or what or who they find sexually attractive
- Unwanted, inappropriate touching, such as caressing, pinching, fondling, reaching underneath clothing, or touching an employee’s intimate parts
- Requesting sexual favors for the promise of job benefits, including hiring, promotions, pay raises, or favorable work assignments
- Demanding sexual favors after threatening an applicant’s or employee’s employment status or physical safety
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment occurs when a job applicant or employee is subjected to unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks, sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical assaults of a sexual nature. There are different types of sexual harassment cases. Sexual harassment comes in two forms:
Hostile Work Environment
These cases involve sexual remarks or comments, sexual advances, or unwelcome, inappropriate physical touching that is so severe or pervasive as to materially alter the conditions of employment by creating an intimidating or offensive workplace.
Quid Pro Quo
Such cases involve requests for sexual favors in exchange for providing an employee or job applicant with a favorable employment decision or an employment benefit, or for refraining from taking adverse employment action against the applicant or employee.
Sexual harassment may be committed by people of any sex or gender and against people of any sex or gender. Harassing behavior does not need to be for the harasser’s sexual gratification, as offensive comments about a person’s sex often count as harassment. The harasser may be a direct supervisor, another supervisor or manager with the company, a co-worker, or a client or customer of the employer. Employers can be held liable for sexual harassment if they know or should know that harassment is occurring in the workplace or between employees, but they take no reasonable steps to stop or prevent the harassment.
Steps to Take After Being Sexually Harassed on the Job
If you believe you were subjected to sexual harassment at work, you should take the following steps:
- Collect evidence of the harassment, such as copies of offensive printed materials or videos distributed in the workplace, photos or videos of the harassment occurring, emails, text messages, or social media posts.
- Review your employer’s policy handbook to determine if your employer has a formal sexual harassment policy.
- Report the harassment to your employer according to the procedures in your employer’s sexual harassment policy. If your employer does not have a formal policy, report the harassment in writing to your supervisor, your supervisor’s supervisor, or a human resources representative.
- Speak to a Tallahassee sexual harassment lawyer with Cruz Law to learn about your legal rights.
What Law or Laws Protect Employees from Workplace Sexual Harassment in Florida?
Both state and federal laws protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. These laws include:
- The Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) prohibits employers from causing or willfully permitting workplace harassment motivated by an employee’s sex or gender.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is a federal law prohibiting sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, holding employers liable for such harassment.
How to Prove Sexual Harassment at Work
Some evidence that could prove helpful in establishing that you have been the target of sexual harassment at work includes the following:
- Eyewitness testimony
- Medical records
- Human resources complaints and investigations
- Photos and videos
- Surveillance footage
- Recordings or notes of in-person conversations or phone calls
- Emails, text messages, voicemails, social media posts, or corporate internal messaging system items
- Copies of sexually obscene or offensive pictures, videos, or other materials
If you are claiming to have suffered quid pro quo sexual harassment at work, you will need to show that:
- You received unwanted sexual requests or advances.
- The requests/advances were based on sex.
- Agreeing to provide the requested sexual favors was a condition of receiving job benefits, or refusing sexual requests or advances caused you to suffer an adverse employment action.
- Your employer controlled and was liable for the supervisor’s or co-worker’s conduct.
To prove that sexual harassment created a hostile work environment for you, you will need to show that:
- You were subjected to harassing behavior, such as unwanted and lewd comments of a sexual nature or unwelcome and inappropriate touching.
- The harassing behavior was either serious or pervasive/frequent enough to negatively affect a term or condition of your job.
- Your employer knew or should have known that harassment was occurring and failed to take reasonable steps to stop the harassment.
Types of Damages in a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
You may be entitled to recover compensation for financial and personal losses you suffered due to sexual harassment in the workplace, such as:
- Back pay you lost after being terminated due to quid pro quo sexual harassment or resigning due to a hostile work environment caused by sexual harassment
- Front pay you could have earned if you had not lost your job or other career advancement opportunities
- Emotional distress and suffering, including anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Loss of reputation
- Injunctive relief, such as reinstatement to a job you were wrongfully terminated from
- Punitive damages that punish an employer for intentionally creating or recklessly fostering a workplace culture of sexual harassment
How Long Do I Have to File a Sexual Harassment Claim?
Title VII gives you 180 days from the date the harassment occurred or last occurred to file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This filing deadline is extended to 300 days if the sexual harassment you experienced is also prohibited by state or local law.
The EEOC will investigate your claim and may issue you a notice of right-to-sue, which permits you to file a lawsuit in federal court. You have 90 days after receiving your notice of right-to-sue to file your sexual harassment lawsuit against your employer.
You may also file a sexual harassment charge under Title VII or the FCRA with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). An FCHR charge must be filed within 365 days of the act of harassment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many employers will take appropriate action when they receive complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. This may range from having the perpetrator undergo remedial training and issue an apology to reassigning or terminating a wrongdoer. When an employer fails to take proper action, a legal response and stiffer penalties may be warranted.
If a sexual harassment complaint is handled by the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), either agency might issue an order that requires the employer to change their policy and pay damages to the harassed employee. Either agency may also allow a civil lawsuit, which could result in a negotiated settlement or a jury award for additional damages. It is also possible that media coverage of a federal lawsuit and trial for sexual harassment would damage the reputations of the defendant company and/or individual perpetrator(s). Meanwhile, it is illegal to retaliate against anyone who complains of sexual harassment or participates in the investigation of a complaint. Acts such as firing, demoting, or denying such an employee pay, benefits, promotions, etc., could lead to additional charges in a lawsuit and additional damages warranted.
If you are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, document what happened by writing down your account, keeping all documents or electronic or hard copies of the offending materials, enlisting the cooperation of witnesses, and making a formal complaint to your supervisor or your company’s human resources/personnel office or officer. Follow procedures in your company’s personnel policy as closely as possible. If at any point you feel that your complaint is not being sufficiently handled or anyone pushes back or takes steps to punish you, you should consult a lawyer immediately. Most employers do not want sexual harassment in their workplace and will deal with complaints promptly and correctly, including by firing bad actors. But if your employer will not hear you and help you, an employment law attorney will.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) enforce certain civil rights in the U.S. and the state of Florida, respectively. The actions of the EEOC take precedence among the two agencies, and the federal agency may take over a case from the FCHR.
Generally, each agency will work first to verify a complaint and then attempt to mediate a resolution between the two sides. Mediation may include restitution to the discrimination victim and the company’s pledge to end improper behavior. If mediation is unsuccessful, either agency will conduct a formal investigation to determine whether the law has been broken. Both agencies have the authority to sue an employer over civil rights violations but typically will not unless they uncover long-term or systemic discrimination that has harmed numerous people. The EEOC or FCHR complaint process often ends with the agency providing the complainant with a Notice of Right to Sue.
An employee subjected to illegal sexual harassment in the workplace may hold the harasser(s) accountable through federal lawsuits demanding compensation for the harm they suffered. In such a lawsuit, the employee must be able to establish a link between the sexual harassment and an adverse tangible employment action (such as being denied a promotion), or they must prove the harassing conduct was so severe and pervasive that it constituted a hostile work environment.
However, before a lawsuit may be filed, an employee generally must follow the company’s sexual harassment complaint procedures in a timely manner, which typically means reporting the harassment and participating in an investigation. Also, Florida law requires the employee to file a complaint with either the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the EEOC, which will investigate and attempt to settle the case, potentially with compensation paid to the employee. If the agency’s proposed settlement is insufficient, it will typically close the investigation by giving the employee notice of their right to pursue a lawsuit.
All Florida employers with 15 or more employees should have written policies that explain and prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, provide a process for reporting and investigating sexual harassment allegations, and define punishments for engaging in sexual harassment. The policy should be provided to new employees in writing and include a requirement for the employee to acknowledge reading and understanding the policy. The employer should also designate a qualified employee (or position, such as human resources director) responsible for investigating and resolving sexual harassment allegations.
On a day-to-day basis, all supervisors and managers are responsible for acting on the employer’s behalf to report sexual harassment or harassment allegations to the designated individual. Employers should ensure immediate investigation of all sexual harassment allegations and that no one who reports sexual harassment or cooperates with an investigation faces retaliation. Employers should also fully cooperate with an investigation of sexual harassment in their workplace conducted by the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) and/or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Here are four frequently seen scenarios that could be reported as sexual harassment:
- Unwanted physical contact – It is wrong to touch someone in a sexual nature without their permission. This includes hugging, kissing, patting, pinching, grabbing, groping, stroking, rubbing against, etc. Such acts may rise to the level of sexual assault, a criminal charge. It is not unusual for co-workers to become close and occasionally hug one another in a collegial, nonsexual manner. However, if an employee makes it known that they do not want to be hugged, additional hugs could be considered sexual harassment.
- Unwelcome sexual demands –This is the typical quid pro quo sexual harassment: an employer tells an employee or a job applicant that good things will happen for them (e.g., hiring, promotion, a raise, desired assignments, etc.) if they agree to the employer’s request for a sexual favor, such as a date or intimate encounter. In some cases, the sexual demand comes with a threat, such as termination, demotion, or withholding of rewards or benefits.
- Ongoing sexual jokes and language – Frequent use of sexually explicit language, jokes, comments, noises, or gestures in the workplace can create a hostile work environment. This includes sharing such material verbally, tangibly (such as on bulletin boards), and electronically (e.g., email, texts, online conference platforms, etc.).
- Inappropriate conduct based on gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation – Rude, disparaging, demeaning, or humiliating questions or remarks based on another employee’s gender, gender identity, or sexual identity are out of bounds. This type of behavior can create a hostile work environment for not just the target of the comments but anyone who feels offended or intimidated.
Under federal law, sexual harassment is harassment of any person that is based on that person’s sex, gender, or gender identity. Any unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace may be considered a violation of the law.
Often, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. But the nature of the harassment does not have to be sexual. It is also illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general. It is likewise unlawful to harass a man by making offensive comments about men.
The activity must also rise to the level of harassment to be illegal. Simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents that are not very serious are not harassment.
Illegal harassment in the workplace is conduct that:
- Is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile work environment. This means the conduct unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates a working environment that a reasonable person would find to be intimidating, hostile, or offensive, or;
- Demands a quid pro quo (a favor for a favor), which, if not met, results in an adverse employment decision, such as the victim:
- Being fired or demoted
- Not being hired
- Not being provided compensation or benefits they qualify to receive.
How a Tallahassee Employment Lawyer Can Help in a Sexual Harassment Case
Your employer should be held responsible for the financial and personal losses you suffered due to sexual harassment you experienced at work. Let a Tallahassee employment lawyer from Cruz Law fight for your rights by:
- Thoroughly investigating your claims to obtain the evidence we can use to build your case.
- Documenting your losses from the harassment, including lost income, lost job opportunities, or emotional distress and suffering.
- Explaining your legal options for pursuing a claim against your employer.
- Filing your harassment charges with the EEOC or FCHR and communicating with the agencies and your employer on your behalf.
- Pursuing your claims in court and at trial if necessary to demand the relief you deserve, such as financial compensation or reinstatement to your job.
Contact Our Tallahassee Sexual Harassment Law Firm Today
No one should have to work in an abusive workplace. In fact, both state and federal laws expressly forbid such behavior. If you’ve been the target of sexual harassment at work, you deserve to hold your employer accountable for what they made you suffer. We can help you learn more about your options, what to expect in the claims process, and how we can provide the legal assistance and support you need during this difficult time.
Our lawyers represent employees in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and across the Florida Panhandle. Contact Cruz Law today for a confidential consultation with a Tallahassee sexual harassment attorney from our firm.