Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

A new study conducted by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) revealed that only 17 percent of employees admit to having witnessed sexual harassment, and only 11 percent say they were targets of sexual harassment. According to researchers, these low figures are common in surveys related to sexual misconduct. Those being surveyed may fear retaliation, or they may be ashamed, or concerned about victim shaming.

But there’s even more to it than that. Just like a victim of sexual harassment may struggle with how to describe what happened to them, and whether or not they should confront their harasser, witnesses may be equally unsure of how to approach the situation. In fact, according to Evren Esen, a former workforce analytics director at SHRM, only about 25 percent of witnesses ever report workplace sexual harassment. Determining whether to “blow the whistle” can be a complicated process.

“Regardless of whether it actually happens to you or whether you observe it, there is still a sense that reporting it is taking it to the next level,” says Evren. “It impacts the organization, the morale, and so on if this kind of behavior is just occurring and people don’t feel comfortable reporting it.”

Whistleblowing aside, witnessing sexual harassment can take a toll on an employee’s mental health just as it can harm the actual target. This is especially true if the witness has previously suffered any type of sexual harassment or abuse. A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been sexually harassed at work.

Betrayal Blindness and Institutional Betrayal

According to Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, witnesses to workplace sexual harassment can suffer from the two types of betrayal trauma common to victims—betrayal blindness and institutional blindness. In cases of betrayal blindness, the victim or witness may “forget” or block out harassment that is conducted by a trusted and respected colleague or mentor. Institutional betrayal occurs when a victim or witness loses their sense of trust in their workplace.

Even when employees try to avoid unpleasant situations involving other workers—keeping their heads down and ‘minding their own business’—they can still be negatively affected

“You’re still in a system that is dysfunctional and it’s going to take a toll on you for that reason,” says Freyd. “So it’s like being in a dysfunctional family—it’s costly to your well-being, just swimming in that system.” Continue reading

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of gender discrimination. As such, it is illegal. Discrimination, including sexual harassment, can create an environment that is hostile, intimidating, or offensive. The situation can be even worse when the person doing the harassing is your boss. In the workplace, a supervisor is inherently in a position of power over his or her subordinates. If your boss is making sexual advances toward you, or engaging in any type of sexually-harassing behavior, what should you do?

Although overt sexual advances can be particularly awkward and intimidating, even less obvious conduct can fall under the category of sexual harassment. Some examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:

  • inappropriate or offensive comments about gender,
  • repeated comments about an individual’s appearance, and
  • inappropriate comments made through email.

For example, if your boss routinely makes comments about the incompetence of women in the workplace, in front of a female co-worker, this may be considered sexual harassment.

When sexual harassment comes in the form of flirtation, repeated requests for dates, or outright sexual advances, the work environment can become quite terrifying for the targeted employee. A Boston employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Title VII

Fortunately, sexual harassment is prohibited at the federal, state, and local level in MA. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees can sue their employers if they suffer from this type of discrimination. Prior to filing a lawsuit, the employee must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency tasked with investigating such claims. Once the EEOC completes its investigation, the employee may bring a lawsuit if no alternative resolution is reached.

According to the EEOC, “although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”

Tips for Handling the Situation

If your boss is making sexual advances toward you, you don’t need to suffer in silence. Take the steps below to protect yourself from further discrimination.

  • Save any offensive emails, texts, or voicemails from your supervisor. These could be helpful if you decide to file a claim with the EEOC, or bring a lawsuit.
  • If you are comfortable doing so, ask your boss to stop the offensive conduct. In some cases, he or she may be unaware that the conduct is bothering you.If, however, you feel too uncomfortable – or unsafe – do not address your supervisor directly.
  • Speak to your human resources department if the situation persists. HR should be supportive, and may be able to give you some direction as to how to resolve the problem. Depending on the size of the company, the HR department may open its own investigation. In some cases, however, they are of little to no help.
  • Contact an employment law attorney. Whether you end up filing a claim with the EEOC, bringing a lawsuit, or resolving the situation without such measures, an experienced MA employment law attorney can answer your toughest questions and help you determine how to proceed during this difficult time.

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Employers are required – by federal law – to provide a safe workplace. If you are concerned that your workplace is unsafe or unhealthy, you have rights. In most cases, the first course of action is to report the hazard to your employer. If the employer is unable, or unwilling, to address the issue, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency responsible for establishing and enforcing workplace safety guidelines, as well as investigating reports of violations.

OSHA protects workers from injuries, illnesses, and generally unsafe or hazardous working conditions. According to OSHA, employers must:

  • provide a safe, healthy workplace,
  • post the OSHA job safety notice somewhere in the workplace,
  • record all injuries, hazardous material exposures, and deaths, and
  • provide any necessary safety training.

Can I Refuse to Work?

Workers have the right to refuse to work if:

  • they reasonably believe that a workplace hazard presents an immediate risk of serious injury or death,
  • their employer fails to fix the condition,
  • there is not enough time to report the condition to OSHA, and
  • no reasonable alternative exists.

In all other cases, workers should first inform their employer of the concern in writing. Keep in mind that employers aren’t usually making the situation unsafe on purpose. In most cases, the negligence is unintentional. Speaking up may be the only thing you need to do to resolve the problem. If that doesn’t work, you may need to talk to an attorney. A Boston work injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured in a workplace accident.

Employer Retaliation

Both OSHA and state laws protect workers who report violations from employer retaliation. Essentially, this means that a worker cannot be demoted or fired, or have their pay reduced, due to having filed a complaint about workplace safety violations. If employer retaliation occurs, the worker may have his or her former position reinstated, and he or she may receive back pay. A MA work injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured in a work-related accident. Continue reading

According to a lawsuit filed earlier this week, female workers at Boston’s McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant have been routinely subjected to sexual harassment from male co-workers and supervisors. The five women involved in the lawsuit allege that their complaints about ongoing groping and lewd comments were consistently ignored by the company.

The McCormick & Schmick lawsuit is just another example of the routine abuse and harassment faced by low-income workers, especially in the hospitality industry. Many of these women are undocumented immigrants and speak little to no English, which prevents them from coming forward about their abuse. Even if they have legal status and speak English, low-income workers may be hesitant to report harassment for fear of losing their job, and income. For many of these women, the loss of a pay check – however small – would have devastating consequences. As such, they suffer in silence.

Low-Income Workers have Legal Rights

Fabiana Santos, a prep cook at the restaurant, said she endured unwanted touching and lewd comments from a dishwasher.

“The disgusting things that happened to me made me feel dirty,” said Santos, through an interpreter. “And when I got home, I didn’t even want my kids to touch me.” A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been discriminated against in the workplace.

Another woman, Marta Romero, says that she felt powerless to stop the groping and harassment she suffered at the hands of a sous chef, who also happened to be her supervisor.

“I want other women to know that whatever type of work they do or who they are, they’re not powerless,” said Romero, through an interpreter. “They are powerful and have legal rights.” A Boston workplace sexual harassment attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of lewd or abusive behavior.

McCormick & Schmick’s Denied that Conduct Constituted Sexual Harassment

Despite repeatedly reporting the sexual harassment to the Houston-based restaurant chain, all five women involved in the lawsuit said they were ignored. According to the lawsuit, the company’s human resources department did impose some disciplinary actions against certain employees, but the company denied that the conduct reached the level of sexual harassment.

The five women eventually went to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which ruled in their favor. According to the lawsuit, the EEOC ruled in 2015 that there was cause to believe that McCormick & Schmick’s workers had engaged in sexual harassment. As such, the women were able to proceed with their lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday in Boston’s Suffolk County Superior Court.

Domestic Workers are Especially Vulnerable

Female workers in the agricultural, hospitality, hotel, and domestic industries have the highest risk of workplace sexual harassment. Domestic workers have the greatest challenge due to the nature of their jobs.

“There is no human resources department,” said Marisa Senteno, the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s enforcement program manager. “You don’t have co-workers, so how are you going to prove that these things are happening?” Continue reading

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

Film producer Harvey Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, the Weinstein Company, following accusations of sexual harassment by at least 30 women. Among them are several well-known actresses including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rosanna Arquette.

Their stories are all quite similar. Mr. Weinstein met them in his hotel room or a similarly private location to discuss business. In many cases, he was in a bathrobe when they arrived, asking if they wanted a massage, or even to watch him shower. For most of these women, the unwanted advances came early in their acting careers, before they were household names. Harvey Weinstein was a highly-respected film director who used his power to take advantage of women.

But sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in show business. It is an unfortunate reality for millions of women every year. And it’s been a problem since women have entered the work force. In fact, up until more recently, “sexual harassment of women at work” didn’t even have a name; it was just work. Fortunately, that’s all changing. We live in a time when sexual harassment is more than frowned upon, it’s illegal. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you are being sexually harassed at work.

Despite the laws protecting women, and men, from sexual harassment in the workplace, it still happens with shocking frequency. Generally speaking, sexual harassment includes unwelcome advances of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors, and other offensive sexual behaviors or comments. For behavior to be considered harassment, it must create a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment, or interfere with the victim’s job. For example, if a male superior threatens to fire a female employee if she doesn’t go on a date with him, this is sexual harassment.

Common Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment comes in many forms, from subtle to blatant. Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Unwanted jokes or innuendoes of a sexual nature
  • Flirting
  • Requests for sexual favors, especially if in connection to employment
  • Unwelcome touching
  • Displaying of pornographic or sexually-suggestive objects or photos
  • Blocking or impeding the victim’s ability to walk away
  • Sexual assault

Keep in mind, however, that sexual attraction and sexual harassment are two entirely different things. Consider Bob. Bob works with Anna; he’s had a crush on her for months. Bob thinks Anna might feel the same way, so he engages in some mild flirting, complimenting her dress one day, and telling her he can’t believe she’s single a few days later. Then he asks her out on a date. Anna declines. Bob’s heart is broken but he understands. Anna, however, is bothered by the request for a date. Bob is definitely not her type. The more she thinks about it, the creepier it seems. Why would Bob ask her out on a date?  Anna starts to feel uncomfortable around Bob at work. After a conversation with her boss about the situation, Anna decides to file a complaint.

In the scenario above, the flirtation may have been unwelcome, but it wasn’t particularly repetitive or severe. Unwelcome flirting or comments can be sexual harassment, but only if they are pervasive or offensive. If, for example, Bob had continued to flirt with Anna and ask her out on dates after she told him to leave her alone, a sexual harassment complaint may have been warranted. In any case, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment. Continue reading

When your boss is a jerk, your job might be extremely unpleasant. But if your boss is a jerk to everyone, her behavior isn’t likely to create a hostile work environment, at least not in legal terms. A hostile work environment involves harassment, and harassment is defined by the EEOC as:

Unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

When harassment becomes a condition of employment, and it’s severe enough that a reasonable person would find the environment abusive, intimidating, or hostile, you may be working in a hostile work environment. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine if the bad behavior of a supervisor or co-worker constitutes unlawful harassment.

For workplace harassment to be unlawful, the following elements must be present:

  • The victim belongs to a protected class.
  • The victim was subjected to unwanted verbal or physical conduct.
  • The harassment was based on the victim’s protected class.
  • The harassment was a condition of continued employment, or the harassment created an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work environment.

If all of the above elements are present, you probably have a harassment case on your hands. If your employer knew about the harassment, but did nothing to stop it, the employer may also be liable.

Consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario A: Tyler just moved to Boston from Alabama. His new co-workers find his southern accent amusing. They give Tyler the nickname Billy Bob and constantly mock his accent. Tyler complains to his supervisor. She laughs and says that everyone loves his accent…that’s why they imitate him. After a few more weeks of the unwelcome jokes and name calling, Tyler gets really angry. He storms into his supervisor’s office and demands that everyone stop calling him Billy Bob and mocking his accent. Tyler’s supervisor asks Tyler to calm down and says that his “aggressive tone” may be cause for termination.

Scenario B: Brenda is gay. When she arrives to work each morning, an anonymous co-worker has put a magazine cutout of a scantily-clad woman on Brenda’s desk. After several days, Brenda reports the incidents to her supervisor. The supervisor laughs it off and tells Brenda that her co-workers are just having fun. After enduring another week of the unwelcome attention, Brenda is beyond angry. She storms into her supervisor’s office and demands that the supervisor do something. This time the supervisor gets angry and tells Brenda that if she can’t handle a little joke, maybe she should find another place to work.

Unlawful or Just Unkind?

In the above scenarios, both Tyler and Brenda are victims of unwelcome behavior. However, Tyler’s “harassment” is based on his southern roots. Unfortunately, being from the south is not a protected class. Therefore, Tyler’s harassment, however frustrating and cruel, is not unlawful. Brenda, on the other hand, is being targeted for her sexual orientation, which is a protected class. If Brenda files a harassment claim against her employer, she will likely win.

In addition to being based on a protected class, harassment must also be consistent and pervasive. What does that mean? Basically, in order for a work environment to be considered hostile, the alleged harassment cannot be based on a single incident. For example, if a co-worker utters a racial or ethnic epithet on one occasion, the incident is unlikely to create a hostile work environment. While one or more employees may be offended by the racial slur, if it’s an isolated remark made by one employee, it isn’t likely to seriously affect the conditions of employment. But it really all depends on the unique circumstances of the case. If, for example, an employee utters something particularly egregious, and the employer refuses to reprimand him, it may be enough to justify a claim of harassment.

Preventing a Hostile Work Environment

Employers must take necessary steps to prevent unlawful harassment in the workplace. A complaint and grievance process should be in place so that employees know how to report unwanted behaviors, and every employee should receive anti-harassment training. Employers should take immediate action when an employee complains of harassment, and should create an environment in which employees feel comfortable about addressing their concerns.

If you are being harassed at work, inform the harasser that you want the conduct to stop immediately. Also report the harassment to management as soon as possible to prevent the problem from escalating. If your efforts to stop the harassment are unsuccessful, contact a MA employment law attorney today. Continue reading

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