Sexual Harassment Claim Defense

Sexual harassment claims form a significant percentage of discrimination claims presented against employers in California and merit discussion on its own. An employer faced with a claim, even before litigation, must balance the rights and expectations of the victim with those of the accused harasser while still considering its own best interests. In such situations, the absence of skilled legal counsel can be costly.An employer's first response to a claim of sexual harassment must be carefully considered and the scope of the investigation conducted fairly and impartially. Often, the use of an outside investigator not only allows an objective analysis of the facts, but also serves as a reasonable justification for the contemplated employment action. Since a failure to understand the basics of a valid sexual harassment claim could result in significant liability exposure, it is always recommended that an attorney be consulted as soon as possible.

In California, sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination. Commonly, cases of employment related sexual harassment involve female victims, but men, too, can be harassed. Frequently, the harasser is of the same gender and California law makes no distinction between same sex harassment and opposite sex harassment. Both are actionable. Sexual harassment may be an easy concept to understand in the most extreme situations involving unwanted touching or direct promises of benefits in exchange for sex; however, the majority of cases involve more indirect conduct. It takes an experienced lawyer, one familiar with the latest case law, codes, and regulations, to recognize what is and what is not a legitimate claim of sexual harassment.

For a valid claim of sexual harassment to exist in the workplace, California legal decisions recognize two distinct forms of harassment. The first, called quid pro quo, is the most familiar, yet the least likely to occur. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when one aspect of the employment relationship is conditioned upon submission to undesired sexual advances. Unwanted sexual propositions are a common example of this type of harassment.

The second form of sexual harassment involves what is commonly known as a "hostile work environment." This occurs when the harassment is so pervasive as to alter the employment conditions and create what is considered to be an abusive work environment. Sexual advances are not necessary under this theory, only that the hostile environment was created on account of the employee's gender. Here, the employee must eventually prove that the employer's conduct that the harassing conduct was so severe, widespread, or persistent that a reasonable person in the employee's circumstances would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive. The employee must also consider the work environment to be hostile or abusive.

Some examples of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to the situations where the following becomes a severe or pervasive problem:

  • Sexual propositions, asking for dates
  • Offensive physical contact such as hugging, kissing, or physical contact of a sexual nature
  • Lewd gestures, remarks, or sexual innuendoes
  • Sexually offensive literature such as magazines, porn, posters or photographs
  • Sexually oriented jokes or comments, even when not directed at the offended employee

Only an experienced lawyer, familiar not only with the law, but knowledgeable in how the law would be applied to a particular fact situation, can provide the most helpful advice. At Wilton Law & Mediation, Ronald Wilton is that attorney.

Set up an appointment for your free consultation today with attorney Ronald Wilton by calling us at 818-906-3500 or fill out the online Contact Form and we will contact you as soon as possible.