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Florida Attorneys Specializing in Employment Law
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome sexual advances or behavior, including physical touching, requests for sexual favors, jokes that are sexual in nature, or any sexual remarks that may lead to a hostile work environment.
Sexual harassment is a serious offense in the state of Florida and is illegal under federal sexual harassment law and the Florida Civil Rights Act as it constitutes discrimination. Sexual harassment can occur in any setting but frequently occurs in the workplace.
While some forms of sexual harassment are subtle, sexual harassment is often overt. However, it is frequently overlooked due to how common it has become.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment can be verbal, physical, or visual.
Verbal harassment is any spoken or written remark intended to insult or alienate another individual.
- Verbal sexual harassment includes:
- Provocative or sexual jokes
- Making sexist remarks
- Requesting sexual favors
- Blackmailing and bribery of a sexual nature
- Discussing one’s sex life and sexual desires unprovoked
- Making catcalls or other derogatory noises
- Calling people by unwelcome and derogatory nicknames
- Discussing or spreading rumors about another person’s sex life
- Repeatedly making romantic efforts with a person who has clearly expressed disinterest
Physical sexual harassment includes but is not limited to physical touching
Examples of physical sexual harassment include:
- Unwanted touching or grabbing, especially on body parts such as the breasts, buttocks, neck, or lower back
- Staring or leering looks
- Offensive gestures
- Unwanted sexual pursuit
More severe types of sexual harassment include:
- Sexual assault, including rape
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual relations with a supervisor or manager
- Employment contingent on sexual acts or relationships
Visual sexual harassment is more subtle than other types of harassment but is still an egregious offense. Visual harassment is anything sexually suggestive within an individual’s view.
Examples of visual sexual harassment include:
- Sexually explicit images such as posters, screen savers, and calendars
- Sending sexually explicit or pornographic emails
- Exposing private parts in front of another person
- Unwelcome sexual gestures
- Staring and leering that makes another individual uncomfortable
- Sharing an individual’s explicit photos without consent
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo roughly translates to “this for that.” Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an employer offers an employee a job benefit in return for sexual favors. Worse, quid pro quo harassment can work the other way, with an employer threatening disciplinary action if an employee refuses to submit to their sexual advances.
Who does Sexual Harassment Affect?
Both men and women can and indeed do experience sexual harassment. However, women are far more likely to experience the behavior; research suggests that one in three women have been sexually harassed at some point in their career.
A study found that 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their life. Of the women surveyed, 85% said a male perpetrator sexually harassed them; 44% of the men surveyed said their harasser was a man.
Although sexual harassment affects men at a much lower rate, it does happen. Due to the stigma surrounding harassment, men often fail to speak up about the issue, fearing they’ll become the butt of a joke.
Sexual Harassment is Underreported
Despite countless instances of sexual harassment, the issue is gravely underreported. Sexual abuse is difficult to talk about, and many sexual harassment victims feel that nothing will change if they report the problem. Sexual harassment claims are all too often dismissed or passed off as overreactions.
Employees are often averse to causing waves in the workplace. Workers who experience sexual harassment might fear reporting the incident will result in adverse or disciplinary action from their employer; this is known as retaliation.
Protection from Retaliation
Workplace retaliation is any adverse action against an employee who engages in a legally protected activity. Protected activities include filing a formal complaint against a company and refusing to participate in a discriminatory activity.
Common forms of workplace retaliation include:
- Employment termination
- Unwanted shift changes
- Being reassigned to an unfavorable position or task
- A salary reduction or loss of benefits
- Sexual harassment
Under federal law and the Florida Civil Rights Act, workers are protected from workplace retaliation if they report sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment Affects Mental Health
Sexual harassment can lead to social issues at work. Colleagues and managers may ostracize an employee for coming forward about an issue.
Ongoing sexual harassment is traumatic for victims and can lead to any of the following mental health issues:
- Depression. Studies have found a link between sexual harassment and depression and suicidal thoughts. Sexual assault may lead to low self-esteem, and some victims may blame themselves for the assault
- Anxiety. Sexual harassment victims may experience increased anxiety levels as they are likely to worry about sexual harassment reoccurring.
- PTSD. Sexual harassment victims are likely to avoid situations that bring up memories of the abuse.
- Sexual harassment can also cause high blood pressure and insomnia in victims.
I Was the Victim of Sexual Harassment, What Should I Do?
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, the first thing you can do is ask the person harassing you to stop. It may seem obvious, but many victims of sexual harassment fail to speak up due to fear of repercussions. Let the harasser know that if they do not stop harassing you, you are prepared to file a formal complaint. The threat of being reported is sometimes enough to deter a harasser.
If the person continues to harass you, raise the issue with a manager or your company’s HR department. You can consult a superior verbally or write a formal letter detailing the harassment. Arrange a meeting with a manager or HR to discuss the issue further. HR should then inform you which subsequent actions to take and what they are doing to resolve the issue.
Sexual harassment can be difficult to prove. If you suspect you are not the only person being harassed, look for other victims. There is strength in numbers and having other witnesses or victims with similar stories will bolster your claims. The EEOC is also more likely to investigate cases with multiple complaints.
Unfortunately, upper management often dismisses or tries to bury sexual harassment claims. If the issue persists after you’ve spoken with HR or a senior manager, you can file a complaint with the EEOC to have the harassment investigated. At this point, you can consider hiring an attorney to determine whether a lawsuit is in order.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?
If you experience and report sexual harassment and no action is taken, you have grounds to file a civil lawsuit against your workplace and the harasser. If your harasser is a manager, you do not need to report the incident to senior management before filing a lawsuit.
You may even want to consult an attorney before you report the incident to HR. An experienced lawyer can help you create a detailed account of the harassment to present to upper management. That way, you’ll have concrete evidence to fall back on in case management tries to shake your confidence.
If you decide to file charges, a lawyer can guide you through your options. They can help you file a charge against your employer with the state or with the EEOC. A lawyer can let you know how strong your case is and what type of compensation you are likely to receive.
Victims of sexual harassment are often emotionally drained and may have trouble providing a clear account of the abuse. Having a lawyer by your side can help you respond to the incident appropriately.
How are Sexual Harassment Cases Handled in Florida?
Criminal sexual harassment cases are high stakes. If you file a criminal sexual harassment lawsuit, you will have to prove sexual harassment beyond a reasonable doubt. If the court is not fully convinced the perpetrator is guilty, they will not convict.
Civil lawsuits are less strict. If you file a civil lawsuit, you must prove that the sexual harassment is more likely than not to have taken place.
In either case, you will need substantial evidence against the harasser. A lawyer can help you compile evidence to win your case.
How Much Compensation Can I Receive?
How much compensation you receive will depend on which type of case you file. If you decide to file a civil suit against the perpetrator, you can file one of two case types:
- Assault and battery
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
In either circumstance, you may be entitled to retrieve the following damages:
- Medical expenses. If you had to obtain physical or mental health treatment after being sexually harassed, you might be able to recover the cost from the perpetrator. Medical bills can include therapy sessions and prescription medications.
- Pain and suffering. As mentioned, sexual harassment can cause emotional distress. Filing for pain and suffering damages can help you receive compensation for any physical or mental trauma you may have suffered.
If you file a lawsuit against your workplace, you may be able to recover medical and pain and suffering damages, along with the following:
If you were sexually harassed and subsequently demoted or fired, you may be able to receive back pay for the wages you lost. The same applies if you were denied a promotion or raise due to sexual harassment. Back pay can include wages, tips, bonuses, and commissions. You can also demand to be reinstated to your former position.
If you lost benefits due to being demoted after sexual harassment, you might be able to recover the costs. Loss of benefits includes health insurance coverage, vacation and sick pay, and retirement or pension benefits.
Whether or not you lost wages or benefits, you may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are a form of punishment against an employer for what is considered poor behavior. If you told your employer about the harassment and they failed to rectify the problem, punitive damages are an option.
Federal law caps punitive damages at a certain amount based on the size of the company. Punitive damage limits are:
- $50,000 for companies with 15-100 employees
- $100,000 for companies with 101-200 employees
- $200,000 for companies with 201-500 employees
- $300,000 for companies with more than 500 employees
If you win your case, your employer may have to pay your attorney’s fees.
How Much is the Average Settlement?
An exact average is difficult to calculate, as results vary drastically from case to case. Research suggests that cases with multiple plaintiffs result in higher value settlements.
Although punitive damages are capped at $300,000, plaintiffs can receive additional compensation in other forms. Sexual harassment settlements were at an all-time high in 2019, with employers paying out over $68.2 million in damages.
Call us Today!
Sexual harassment can have life-long physical and mental outcomes. The Lopez Law Group’s team of experienced attorneys can help you get the compensation you deserve. If you have been sexually harassed and want to pursue legal action, call us today at 727-933-0015 for a free case review. We are ready and willing to walk you through your options.
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