California Sexual Harassment Basics

California Sexual Harassment Basics

Sexual harassment in California workplaces is prohibited. In particular, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) — Cal. Gov. Code, § 12940 — expressly defines, as an “unlawful employment practice,” any harassment or discrimination of an employee because of their sex, sexual orientation, sexual preference, gender identity, or marital or pregnancy status. Harassment is prohibited by any agent, supervisor, or other managerial personnel of an employer. The FEHA also makes it unlawful — and provides that employers can be punished — if employers fail to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment by co-workers, third-parties, customer and others. Sexual harassment is also prohibited by federal law, specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Both California law and Title VII are similar in how they define sexual harassment and how employers can be punished for engaging in or allowing sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment typically is defined to include two types of behavior. First, there is what is called “quid pro quo” harassment where employment benefits are expressly or implicitly conditioned on an employee submitting to or tolerating unwelcome sexual advances. Second, there is sexual harassment based on a hostile working environment. A hostile working environment might exist where one or all of these conditions are present in a workplace:

  • Verbal harassment including derogatory comments or slurs based on sex or gender or orientation
  • Physical harassment including assaults and unwanted touching
  • Visual harassment including posters, photos, cartoons, or other images of a sexual nature

Victims of sexual harassment can sue their employers for civil money damages. Either type of sexual harassment can be the basis of a civil lawsuit. That is, a hostile work environment might exist even if the victim has never been subject to sexual advances or the demand for sexual favors in exchange for employment benefits.

To prove quid pro quo sexual harassment, a victim must generally show these legal elements:

  • That the victim was an employee or a job applicant or a contractor providing services
  • That the victim’s supervisor (or other person with control over the victim’s employment) made unwanted sexual advances or engaged in other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature
  • That terms of employment, job benefits, or favorable working conditions were made contingent, by words or conduct, on the victim’s acceptance of the sexual advances or conduct
  • That the unwanted sexual advances or conduct caused harm to the victim

Examples of unwanted sexual advances might include sexual propositions, unwarranted graphic discussion of sexual acts, compliments on the employee’s body and the sexual uses to which it could be put and more. Examples of harm might include emotional distress, anxiety and other medical conditions and also harm to the victim’s employment resulting from a victim refusing to agree to the unwanted sexual advances.

To prove sexual harassment based upon a hostile work environment, a victim must prove facts similar to those listed above and demonstrate that the sexually suggestive or abusive aspects of the workplace were severe enough or sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create a work environment that qualifies as “hostile” to employees because of their sex. Under some circumstances, a single event or slur or derogatory comment can be sufficient for a finding of a hostile working environment. But, generally, more than one incident is needed to show an abusive and/or hostile working environment.

As noted, victims of sexual harassment can file a civil lawsuit against their employers. The purpose of such lawsuits is to vindicate the rights of employees and, when appropriate, to punish employers who willfully engage in sexual harassment or who allow particularly shocking behavior. Compensation to victims can include lost wages, medical costs and expenses if the harassment caused physical and/or emotional injuries that required medical treatment, compensation for emotional distress and other types of damages.

Contact Experienced California Harassment and Discrimination Attorneys

For more information, contact the experienced workplace harassment and discrimination attorneys at Guardian Litigation Group. We have the tools and legal experience necessary to protect you and to recover money damages for you if you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Our Mission is to provide unparalleled legal services for our clients. We can be reached via our contact page or by phone at (949) 569-9006.