If you’ve been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted at work, you may have a claim against your employer for negligent hiring or negligent supervision. Sometimes an employer hires someone it knows or should know has dangerous tendencies. Sometimes an employer learns that an employee is dangerous after hiring him. If the employer unreasonably hires or retains someone who is dangerous, and that person later sexually harasses or assaults another person at work, the employer can be held liable for negligence. We have experience representing victims of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace and helping them get the treatment and compensation they deserve. Call 412-258-2250, text 412-498-4120 or email [email protected] and get a free consultation with Charles A. Lamberton, one of Pittsburgh top sexual harassment lawyers.
Working in an isolated context. Isolation leaves women vulnerable to abusers who feel emboldened by a lack of witnesses. Frontline reported in 2015 that ABM (described as the largest employer of janitors) had 42 lawsuits brought against it in the previous two decades for allegations of workplace sexual harassment, assault, or rape.
Working in a male-dominated job. Women working in occupations where they are a small minority, particularly in very physical environments or environments focused on traditionally male-oriented tasks are especially vulnerable to harassment and assault. In a survey from the early 1990s, close to six in ten women working in construction report being touched or asked for sex. A recent National Academy of Sciences study documented high levels of harassment of women faculty and staff in academia in science, engineering, and medicine, with women in academic medicine reporting more frequent gender harassment than their female colleagues in science and engineering.
Working in a setting with significant power differentials and “rainmakers.” Many workplaces have significant power disparities between workers. These power imbalances, particularly given women’s lower likelihood of being in the senior positions, are a risk factor for sexual harassment and assault. Workers in more junior positions may be especially concerned with retaliation, the handling of internal complaints, and continued vulnerability within their job. “Rainmakers”—such as a well-known professor, well-recognized or high-earning partner, or grant-winning researcher—may feel they do not need to comply with the rules that govern other employees and may not be disciplined if accused of sexual harassment or assault.
I hate sexual harassers because I hate bullies. I hate them because they exploit physical and economic power over women. I hate them because they choose not to control themselves. I hate them because they disrespect women. I hate them because they make the world a less fair and less safe place. When I represent a woman in a sexual harassment case, while I may be wearing a suit and tie, this is the man underneath who fights for her. He runs five miles a day and benches 250 lbs.
Sexual assault survivors may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. They result from physiological damage to the Amygdala and to the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The amygdala detects threats in the environment and activates the “fight or flight” response and activates the sympathetic nervous system to help deal with the threat. The PFC regulates attention and awareness, make decisions about the best response to a situation, initiate conscious, voluntary behavior, determines the meaning and emotional significance of events, regulate emotions, and inhibits or corrects dysfunctional reactions.
Studies of people with PTSD show a hyper reactive amygdala and a less activated medial PFC. In other words, the amygdala reacts too strongly to a potential threat while the medial PFC is impaired in its ability to regulate the threat response. The consequences present symptomatically in a number of ways.
Symptoms of intrusive memories:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
PTSD is a serious disorder. If you have been the victim of a sexual assault at work, speak with your medical doctor and call our office. We may be able to help you.
Contact an employment lawyer. Tell the person who is harassing you to stop. If you do not feel comfortable confronting the harasser directly, or if the behavior does not stop, check to see if your employer has an anti-harassment policy. It should. It may be on the employer’s website, in the employee handbook or available from HR. If there is a policy, follow the steps in the policy. The policy should give you various options for reporting the harassment, including the option of filing a complaint. If there is no policy, talk with a supervisor or with HR. You can talk with your own supervisor, the supervisor of the person who is harassing you, or any supervisor in the organization. Explain what has happened and ask for that person’s help in getting the behavior to stop. The law protects you from retaliation (punishment) for complaining about harassment. You have a right to report harassment, participate in a harassment investigation or lawsuit, or oppose harassment, without being retaliated against for doing so. Document, document, document. Document everything. Remember to contact an employment lawyer. Depending on your case facts, we can help you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC to complain about the harassment. There are specific time limits for filing a charge (180 or 300 days, depending on where you work), so contact an employment lawyer promptly. You can also meet with EEOC to discuss your situation and your options. This conversation is confidential.
Workplace sexual harassment is real; it happens, and it happens a lot. Study after study has shown that it is one of the most harmful, traumatic power abuses that can be perpetrated against a victim. There’s no understating the seriousness of the problem, or how poorly the legal system, the political system and the right wing media have responded to it.
In Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, 2018 WL 3234243 (3d Cir. July 3, 2018), the Third Circuit reversed summary judgment for the employer because a jury could find that the sexual harassment victim was reasonable in not reporting the harassment for four years. In a footnote that will be cited for years to come, the Court said:
This appeal comes to us in the midst of national news regarding a veritable firestorm of allegations of rampant sexual misconduct that has been closeted for years, not reported by the victims. It has come to light, years later, that people in positions of power and celebrity have exploited their authority to make unwanted sexual advances. In many such instances, the harasser wielded control over the harassed individual’s employment or work environment. In nearly all of the instances, the victims asserted a plausible fear of serious adverse consequences had they spoken up at the time that the conduct occurred. While the policy underlying Faragher-Ellerth places the onus on the harassed employee to report her harasser, and would fault her for not calling out this conduct so as to prevent it, a jury could conclude that the employee’s non-reporting was understandable, perhaps even reasonable. That is, there may be a certain fallacy that underlies the notion that reporting sexual misconduct will end it. Victims do not always view it in this way. Instead, they anticipate negative consequences or fear that the harassers will face no reprimand; thus, more often than not, victims choose not to report the harassment.
Recent news articles report that studies have shown that not only is sex-based harassment in the workplace pervasive, but also the failure to report is widespread. Nearly one-third of American women have experienced unwanted sexual advances from male coworkers, and nearly a quarter of American women have experienced such advances from men who had influence over the conditions of their employment, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from October of 2017. Most all of the women who experienced harassment report that the male harassers faced no consequences. ABC News/Washington Post, Unwanted Sexual Advances: Not Just a Hollywood Story (Oct. 17, 2017), www.langerresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/…
Additionally, three out of four women who have been harassed fail to report it. A 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Select Task Force study found that approximately 75 percent of those who experienced harassment never reported it or filed a complaint, but instead would “avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior.” EEOC Select Task Force, Harassment in the Workplace, at v (June 2016), www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/upload/… Those employees who faced harassing behavior did not report this experience “because they fear[ed] disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.” Id.; see also Stefanie Johnson, et al., Why We Fail to Report Sexual Harassment, Harvard Business Review (Oct. 4, 2016), hbr.org/2016/10/why-we-fail-to-report-sexual-harassment (women do not report harassment because of retaliation fears, the bystander effect, and male-dominated work environments).