Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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

The workplace is where Americans spend close to 10,000 hours of their lives, on average. Needless to say, if your place of employment makes you unhappy, you won’t exactly be able to simply endure the negative way it makes you feel, day in and day out.

But how can you be sure if your Massachusetts workplace is simply an unpleasant place to be, or if it has turned into something that is simply not acceptable anymore? How can you tell if work conditions have gone from slightly unbearable, to downright hostile? Use the following information to ascertain whether or not you work in a hostile work environment, and whether or not you have legal recourse to remedy this.

Are you being harassed?

Harassment is a large umbrella that encompasses a wide range of discriminatory behavior. It boils down to this: if you are being singled out or otherwise targeted due to something completely unrelated to your work performance – such as your race, gender, age, sexual orientation or a disability – then you are being unlawfully harassed.

If you are subjected to conditions, work expectations or other behaviors that are not endured by other employees, then you are most likely the victim of harassment. It is not acceptable for a supervisor to force one employee to clean their office, or get them lunch every day, if this is not a task laid out clearly in a job description.

Harassment can take many forms, from threats of firing for not performing tasks unrelated to your job to being mocked openly in front of your coworkers by a supervisor. If the conduct of a coworker, supervisor or anybody else in the workplace makes you uncomfortable, scared or emotionally affected in a way that it negatively impacts your ability to perform your job, then that is textbook harassment, which is illegal.

Is someone else being harassed?

You can righteously make the claim that you are working in a hostile work environment even if you aren’t the subject of any harassment.

The workplace needs to be a safe, accepting space for all of its workers. If there is somebody else who is consistently victimized, in plain view of other employees, then this can create a hostile work environment for others even if they aren’t directly being harassed. Seeing somebody else be harassed can be equally alarming and traumatizing for the person who is actively being treated poorly.

Sexual harassment

Perhaps the most egregious condition that causes a hostile work environment is sexual harassment. If you are ever subjected to uncomfortable, unwanted sexual advances by an employee, supervisor or other person in the workplace, this is unacceptable and highly illegal. Sexual harassment can be physical or verbal in nature, and can also take the form of various threats, which may be carried out if sexual favors are not performed.

What can be done?

Instances of harassment, when possible, should first be discussed with the offending person. Calmly tell them that their behavior is causing you undue harm and stress, and ask them to stop the behavior immediately. Keep a written, dated record of any instances of harassment that occur.

If you are too scared or uncomfortable to bring up your concerns to the offender personally, or if you have told them to stop and the behavior has not stopped, bring the issue forward to your human resources representative. From there, any number of actions may be taken. Likely, a workplace investigation will take place, ideally from an independent, outside investigator with no stake in the company.

If this course of action doesn’t cause the behavior to stop, then you may wish to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace. The EEOC can investigate complaints regarding harassment, as well as instances where an employee was unlawfully retaliated against for formally filing a complaint to stop harassing behavior. Continue reading

Sexual harassment can occur anywhere. And it’s shockingly common, especially in the workplace. In fact, one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 report being sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As such, it is a federally prohibited act. Even so, workplace sexual harassment continues to occur with shocking frequency. Read on for more information about what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, and what to do if you are being harassed.

Title VII protects workers from unlawful discrimination, including discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Sexual harassment encompasses a diverse array of behaviors, including unwelcome sexual advances, verbal sexual misconduct, physical sexual misconduct, and requests for sexual favors. Title VII applies to employers with at least 15 employees, and includes government entities. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Whether or not an action is considered sexual harassment is largely dependent on the particulars of the situation. For example, the telling of sexually-suggestive jokes between co-workers who are friends outside of work and who engage in that type of banter is probably not sexual harassment. However, if a superior tells sexually-suggestive jokes to a new employee and it makes her uncomfortable, this may be considered a form of sexual harassment. This is especially true if he continues to tell the jokes even after discovering that they make the employee uncomfortable.

Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Work Environment

Workplace sexual harassment is usually placed in one of two categories: quid pro quo or hostile work environment.  A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

  • Quid pro quo: This type of sexual harassment occurs when the harassment is tied to an employment decision, such as a promotion or termination.
  • Hostile work environment: This type of sexual harassment occurs when the harassment of a superior or co-worker makes your work environment offensive, intimidating, or hostile.

In addition to sexually-suggestive jokes, sexual harassment may include threats or bribes soliciting sexual activity, sexual comments or innuendos, unwelcome touching, displays of sexually explicit or graphic images or content, and any type of sexual assault. If you have been sexually harassed, the severity of the incident will have a significant impact on the outcome of the case. In some cases, even a single unwelcome advance may constitute sexual harassment; for example, the request of a sexual favor in exchange for a promotion, or a uniquely severe form of harassment, such as assault. If an isolated incident is less serious, such the telling of a sexually-suggestive joke, it may be difficult to qualify as sexual harassment. When a pattern exists, however, painting a picture of a hostile work environment will be an easier task. Continue reading

In a particularly challenging year for Uber, the company behind the driver-for-hire app has terminated over 20 employees in an effort to deal with accusations of sexual harassment and other issues. On Tuesday, Uber made an internal announcement to its 12,000 employees about the decision, following a long list of complaints from former employees.

215 Workplace Incidents

According to reports, a total of 215 claims of workplace incidents have been filed against Uber. The breakdown of these complaints, in order of frequency, is as follows:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unprofessional behavior
  • Bullying
  • Other types of harassment
  • Retaliation
  • Physical security
  • Wrongful termination

An internal investigation into these claims is currently underway. Since the investigation began, Uber has fired 20 employees, and another seven have received a final warning. According to the ride-hailing tech giant, 57 claims are still under review and no action is being taken in 100 of the claims. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to move forward if you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment.

Blogging about Harassment

Most of the complaints originated in the company’s San Francisco headquarters, but complaints have come from Uber locations across the globe. Following former employee Susan Fowler’s claims on her blog that she experienced gender bias and sexual harassment while working for Uber, the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, launched the internal investigation.

The news of the firings is just the most recent in a string of scandals that have been plaguing Uber for months. Earlier this year, the company’s senior vice president of engineering was asked to resign when Uber discovered that he hadn’t disclosed past allegations of sexual harassment. Ed Baker, another Uber exec, left the company abruptly under unknown circumstances in March.

Technology Theft and Bad Business Practices

And that’s not all. Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, has brought a lawsuit against Uber, accusing the company of stealing its technology. As a result, Anthony Levandowski, an Uber engineer who had previously worked for Google, was fired last month. Beyond the lawsuits and allegations of workplace misconduct, Uber is also battling an image of bad business practices, such as the use of a tool designed for the purpose of evading regulators.

Is Uber in Denial?

“(Fowler’s) blog shocked me,” said Liane Hornsey, the head of Uber’s HR. “But, what did surprise me, was when I did the listening sessions, this didn’t come up as an issue. It wasn’t one of our big themes. Other things came up that are in that area, that our values are masculine and a little aggressive, but the harassment issue, I just didn’t find that at all.” A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been harassed in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Uber is far from the only company with sexual harassment issues. This type of inappropriate workplace behavior is actually quite common. A study of 500 respondents and 92 U.S. companies produced the following results:

  • Approximately 54 percent (272) of respondents had been the victim of some type of workplace sexual harassment.
  • Of those, 27 percent had experienced harassment by a colleague, and 17 percent were harassed by a
  • Women made up the majority of harassment victims at 79 percent.
  • Of those harassed, 12 percent claim to have received threats of termination if they refused the advances and requests of their harassers.

Continue reading

Although it is becoming increasingly more vital to attempt to crack down on the amount and frequency of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace, it is equally as important to learn how to recognize the signs and elements of sexual harassment from a legal standpoint, in order to more effectively address these concerns, as well as to know what your rights are. Legally, there are two ways that one can be harassed while at work: through “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment” harassment.

According to Massachusetts General Law Ch. 151B, “quid pro quo” harassment is defined as:

sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when . . . submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decision.

Every employer should have a policy against sexual harassment. Federal and state laws prohibit this type of harassment in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it never occurs. In some cases, the accuser has a legitimate claim against the accused. However, false accusations do occur with relative frequency. They may be a form of retaliation, or fabricated to justify the firing of an employee. If you are being investigated for sexual harassment in the workplace, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine your rights and options.

What is Sexual Harassment?

From mild innuendos to blatant abuse, sexual harassment can take many forms. Some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Sexual assaults: This includes everything from unwanted, intentional touching, such as grabbing, patting, and even brushing against another’s body, to outright rape.
  • Unwelcome advances of a sexual nature: Sexually-oriented comments or gestures, propositions, and jokes or remarks about another employee’s sexuality.
  • Special treatment in exchange for sexual conduct: Soliciting another employee to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a raise, promotion, or preferential treatment.
  • Threatening unwanted sexual attention.
  • The presence of any type of sexual or discriminatory materials or publications in the workplace.
  • Retaliation for refusal of sexual advances or for complaints of sexual harassment.

What if the Accusation is False?

The short answer is, it’s complicated. If the employer disciplines the alleged victim for a false complaint and it turns out the complaint was valid, the victim can take the employer to court. For this reason, many employers submit to the knee-jerk reaction of immediately firing the accused. The accused does have a right to challenge this termination, but this right is limited. An employer also has the right to discharge an employee based on suspicion of sexual harassment, even if the suspicion turns out to be inaccurate. So most employers decide to take the easy road to protect themselves, even if they don’t fully believe the accusations. But if the employer uses a fabricated accusation to cover up an unlawful reason for discharge, the employer may be liable. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. Continue reading

Sexual harassment in the workplace is any unwanted activity of a sexual nature that creates an unfriendly or hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal, or more nuanced such as through email interactions. Sexual harassment can happen to women, men and transgendered workers.

Although most people think of sexual harassment in various forms of cliché – such as a cigar-smoking boss physically grabbing female employees in inappropriate ways – this is by no means the only way that sexual harassment can occur within the workplace. Sexual harassment includes any type of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors in exchange for rewards or threats of disciplinary action if sexual favors are not given.

Another stereotypical view of sexual harassment is that it only occurs in certain types of office environments, and that it was a much bigger problem back in the 70s, 80s and 90s when the increased presence of women in the workforce was still a new topic to those unwilling to adapt to changing times.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that sexual harassment has not vanished with the modernization of society, as a 2015 study showed that 33 percent of 2,235 part and fulltime women workers experienced harassment at work at some point in their lives.

Other recent studies show that sexual harassment is actually an even bigger problem in modern, booming industries, such as the technological hub of Silicon Valley.

A study of more than 200 women working in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco in 2016 showed that 90 percent had witnessed sexist behavior at offsite company events and industry conferences. Another 60 percent had reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior. An uneasy 33 percent said they felt afraid for their personal safety because of these incidents at work.

These cases of sexual harassment include physical groping and the requesting of a female sales associate to “sit on his lap” in order to complete a sale. One who filed a complaint after she was physically groped by her boss said that she was retaliated against and had to leave the company.

Even more alarming are the staggering statistics regarding gender discrimination by superiors and clients at these companies. About half of the survey respondents said they had been asked to perform “office housework” tasks, such as taking notes, ordering food, etc.) that male counterparts were not asked to do. Another 87 percent reported being on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male colleagues.

A shocking 75 percent of respondents say they were asked questions about marriage and family in their job interviews, which is a violation of anti-discrimination policy. Sometimes the discriminatory action is less overt, such as superiors taking the staff out to lunch at Hooters, or engaging in “team building activities” that include shaving the hair from their heads. Continue reading

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