Articles Posted in Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment has been a major topic of discussion in recent months. This should be no surprise, considering how widespread the problem has been for decades, centuries, probably since the beginning of time. The modern concept of sexual harassment is relatively new, however, dating from the 1970s onwards. And women’s voices are finally being heard.

Workplace sexual harassment is a violation of human rights and a shockingly common form of sex-based discrimination. Sexual harassment in the workplace often goes unreported as it starts at the top. Regardless, in light of the recent Hollywood scandals, including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., women having started coming forward in greater numbers to report workplace sexual misconduct. Further, the #MeToo campaign has encouraged women to speak out, and new allegations seem to be turning up every day. One of the most recent involves Hall of Fame quarterback, Warren Moon.

The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock recently reported that a California woman filed a lawsuit against Warren Moon, accusing the ex-football player of sexual harassment. According to Whitlock, Moon “committed sexual battery by grabbing the woman’s crotch” during a trip to Seattle earlier this year.

Moon Drugged His Victim’s Drink

The lawsuit also alleges that Moon drugged 32-year-old Wendy Haskell’s drink and pulled off her bathing suit during an October trip to Mexico. Haskell was hired in July as Moon’s executive assistant. A Boston workplace discrimination attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been sexually harassed at work.

Unfortunately, women often suffer further from the process of reporting sexual harassment.  In addition to the shame and adherence to cultural norms that frequently prevents women from speaking out, they commonly fear an onslaught of other consequences, such as work degradations, humiliation, and retaliation. Haskell was not “only” a victim of sexual harassment, she was also a victim of those consequences.

According to Haskell’s lawsuit, Sports 1 Marketing – the company she worked for, which was owned by Moon – demoted her when she made superiors aware of Moon’s actions. She alleges that Moon “required her to wear thong underwear and share his bed” when they were together on business trips. This is an egregious form of sexual abuse, and reports of such violations should never result in further punishment of the victim. A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment. Continue reading

According to advocates who help undocumented immigrant workers and low-wage women, the more vulnerable the woman, the worse the sexual harassment tends to be. One recent case in Massachusetts involved a Honduran woman who would be beckoned to a supervisor’s office via the PA system, signaling to her that it was time to perform oral sex on him. Sexual misconduct in the workplace is shockingly common, but it’s often only revealed as a secondary issue when women report other problems, such as theft of wages. “A lot of women are trained that economic issues are real problems and this sexual harassment thing is just extra added discomfort,” said interim co-director for Jobs With Justice, Gillian Mason.

Another issue faced by low-income workers is that they are often working through temp agencies. Refusing advances from their supervisors may prevent their ability to obtain permanent employment, so many suffer through it. During a sexual harassment study conducted by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), one temp worker said, “The female co-workers that wanted the permanent job through the company, they let him touch them.” A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

Don’t Bother Reporting it, “This Company Always Wins.”

Over a one-year period, MassCOSH interviewed a total of 58 low-wage Latina workers in the restaurant, janitorial, factory, and hotel industries. One woman reported feeling like she was in a “prison,” fearing that she wouldn’t be able to support her child if she lost her job. Another woman, who worked at a Somerville manufacturing company, claimed that after refusing her supervisor’s advances, he made her work on a more dangerous machine. She went to a lawyer after burning her hands on the machine, but the lawyer told her to give up because “this company always wins.” So she did. Shortly thereafter, she was laid off.

According to Adrian Ventura, director of the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in New Bedford, sexual harassment often occurs in the vans used to transport workers to different job sites. In many cases, the van drivers double as supervisors for temp agencies. Some drivers will drop off attractive, young workers last so they can be alone in the vehicle together. If the woman refuses the driver’s advances, she risks losing her job. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

For many of these women, not speaking English presents another obstacle. Even if the company has established harassment policies and procedures for reporting this type of behavior, without a Spanish translator, many workers don’t know what to do. In the case of Judith Lucas, from Guatemala, a language barrier prevented her from reporting long-standing harassment at a scallop processing facility in New Bedford. She couldn’t quit because she needed the money, and she couldn’t ask for help because her translator was the man who was assaulting her. Continue reading

Sexual harassment and assault typically involve an imbalance of power: boss and employee, teacher and student, adult and child, police officer and civilian. The person with power takes advantage of the victim’s vulnerability. Very few people are more vulnerable than an undocumented immigrant living in the United States. Most undocumented immigrants have risked everything to be here, and their employers know it. As such, the employer of an undocumented immigrant is automatically put in a position of power. The threat of deportation looms. In far too many cases, employers use this knowledge to sexually harass or assault workers.

Reports of sexual harassment have been flooding the headlines lately, with women coming forward about enduring years of harassment at the hands of their employers. Their stories include everything from bad behavior to outright rape. Many of these women are well-known, high-paid Hollywood actresses and socialites. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Finally, women are being heard. Something is being done. Progress is being made.

Fear of Retaliation, Job Loss, or Deportation

But low-wage workers, many of them undocumented, and many of them unable to speak English, are not getting the same response to allegations of sexual harassment as their rich, white, Hollywood counterparts. For many of these women, reporting sexual harassment doesn’t seem to be viable option. They simply cannot afford to lose their jobs. And even if they want to report it, many don’t know how, or they fear that calling attention to themselves will result in deportation. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

One woman in Boston – an undocumented immigrant – was continuously raped by her boss, who threatened to report her to immigration authorities if she ever told anyone. Another woman, who was working at a bread company in Charlestown, refused her supervisor’s offer to go home with him. In response, he cut her hours.

In 2015, Jena Benson started working at a Boston-area Dunkin’ Donuts. She says that her shift supervisor would always greet her with a hug, which didn’t bother her too much. But on one particular occasion, the hug lasted too long and ended with the supervisor squeezing her buttocks. Continue reading

Barry Coleman was hired as HR director at Netflix in early 2016. The streaming giant offered Coleman the job after seeing his presentation on doing business in China, in 2015. Shortly after receiving the offer, Coleman learned that his son had been murdered. Distraught over the tragic loss of his son, Coleman suffered from severe depression. But Netflix maintained their offer of a $500,000 annual salary to be the director of employee services.

Coleman alleges that his recruiter, Barbie Graver, former VP of talent at Netflix, said that Netflix would accommodate his situation: “If you work at half your normal speed for the first six months, I’m okay with that.” However, Coleman says that this special treatment was quickly replaced with harassment. He claims to have been ostracized for not working the “Netflix Way,” and for being disengaged. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Coleman claims that a male superior began making inappropriate advances in April 2016. He initially asked Coleman to join him for a rendezvous with another male business exec. Coleman politely declined the offer, but the invitations didn’t stop. As stated in the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court: “Being heterosexual, [Coleman] was uncomfortable with [the superior’s] advances and attempted to keep some distance so as not to offend his superior. However, the invitations to go out continued.”

Not “Netflix Enough”

Then came the gossiping. According to Coleman, the superior began talking about him with other employees, saying that Coleman wasn’t “Netflix enough,” and calling him arrogant. When he brought the issue to Graver’s attention, not only did she not initiate an investigation, she claimed to be “cool” with this type of behavior. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

The complaint went on to say that: “During [Coleman’s] employment, Ms. Graver discussed her handling of a prior sexual harassment claim at Netflix. She told [Coleman] that the accused employee had a history of making inappropriate comments and had been warned on numerous occasions. Ms. Graver also told [Coleman] that many Netflix executives would make inappropriate sexual comments and that [she] was ‘cool’ with it, but understood that others may not be. Ms. Graver, in communicating these and other examples of Netflix unwritten policy of tolerating harassment and discrimination, made it clear to [Coleman] that he should not be ‘over-sensitive’ even when he was being harassed by his superior.”

Apparently the situation only continued to get worse until Graver took a new job. According to Coleman, Graver’s replacement did not wish to accommodate his continued psychological needs from the death of his son. As such, his employment was terminated in May 2016. Netflix holds that Coleman’s termination was based on poor performance. The company claims that he was rarely in the office, and that he was often condescending to his subordinates. Continue reading

Do you dread going to work in the morning? Are you constantly afraid of being yelled at or otherwise victimized by a superior or a coworker? Are you being singled out due to things you cannot change, such as your race, ethnicity, gender or age? Have you been targeted because of your religion, or a disability? Any one of these situations can amount to a hostile work environment, which is unacceptable in the modern workplace.

If you have documented proof of a hostile work environment that is causing you undue stress, pain or suffering, and attempts to resolve the issue through human resources or other means has made no difference, you may wish to consult with an experienced attorney from Altman & Altman LLP. We are well versed in cases involving hostile work conditions in and around the Greater Boston Area.

What makes a hostile work condition?

Work can be downright unpleasant for many different reasons. However not all of these reasons constitute a hostile work environment. The difference between an unpleasant workplace and a hostile workplace is whether or not you (or even somebody else) is being personally harassed, and whether or not this activity affects your ability to perform your work duties.

Harassment includes a long list of discriminatory behavior. Harassment can be physical – in the form of sexual harassment involving touching, cornering or assaulting – it can be verbal in the form of unrelenting, personal insults and it can even be psychological, such as a superior threatening to fire you if you don’t perform tasks not outlined in your job description or expected of other employees.

Any time harassment targets certain aspects of your person – such as anything to do with your race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability – this is a federal crime and, if it significantly impacts your ability to perform your work duties, is a textbook example of hostile work conditions.

The harassment may not even necessarily have to happen to you in order for a workplace to become hostile. Hostile practices can make the workplace uncomfortable to work in and make any employee feel unsafe or dreadful of showing up to work – even if the hostile actions are occurring to somebody else.

Harassment can be overt and it can be subtle. Regardless of the type of behavior that is causing you undue stress, our lawyers are well-versed in hostile work environment statutes and have advocated on behalf of our clients for over 40 years. Continue reading

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