Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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Late last week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that the Department of the Army engaged in discrimination against a transgender veteran. A prominent Washington newspaper reported that the Counsel determined that the Army was discriminating against a transgender individual who transitioned from male to female.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 4.49.18 PM.pngApparently, the individual was working as a software specialist for the Army in 2010 when she transitioned from male to female. During this transition, the Army put restrictions on which restrooms she could use, insulted her, and refused to give her work.

The victim filed a lawsuit in 2012 and explained that the restrictions had isolated her and segregated her from the rest of her employees. Furthermore, an investigation found that her gender transition did not have any negative impact on her work or other employees’ productivity. Fortunately, after this suit the Army has implemented training to ensure that no further discrimination occurs in the form of diversity and sensitivity training.
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The Federal Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently updated the enforcement guidelines regarding discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. The revision of these guidelines comes over 30 years after pregnancy discrimination was first banned in the workplace, and is the first revision since then.

maternity-portrait-2-1413394-m.jpgThe 1983 Pregnancy Discrimination Act is part of the larger American with Disabilities Act. The Act makes it illegal for employers to make hiring, firing, promotion, and other employment-related decisions based on an employee’s status as a pregnant woman or in relation to any pregnancy-related illnesses.

While pregnancy itself is not listed as a “disability” under the Act, pregnancy-related illnesses can qualify. This means that if a pregnancy-related illness rises to the level of a “disability” under the terms of the Act, an employer may need to make reasonable accommodations for the employee, including:
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As schools are letting out for the summer, some high school and college students will turn their attention to earning some cash during their break. Being new to the workplace, many students are unaware of the laws in place to protect them and others from workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. These laws protect workers who are employed by companies of a certain size, regardless of whether the job is full-time, part-time, or seasonal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gives the following advice to young workers:

Don’t Discriminate: You should not treat your co-workers unfairly or harass them because of their race, skin color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy) religion, disability, age (age 40 or older) or genetic information. For example, you should not tell sexual or racial jokes at work or tease people because they are different from you.

Report Discrimination: You should tell your company about any unfair treatment or harassment. Find out if your company has a policy on discrimination that specifies who you should contact about these issues.

Request Workplace Changes: You have a responsibility to tell your company if you need a workplace change because of your religious beliefs or disability. Your request does not have to be in writing, but you must provide enough information so your company can determine how to help you.

In a case settled in 2012, an 18-year-old female said she was subjected to sexual harassment by a male cashier while working at a Dairy Queen. During the six months that she worked there, the harassment didn’t stop, even after she told her manager. She called the police, who came to investigate while she was working. The manager then fired her while the police were there. She filed a claim with the EEOC, and a complaint was filed alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. The parties settled the case, with the company agreeing to pay $17,500, to provide sexual harassment training to its managers and supervisors, to post a notice about the lawsuit, and to report any additional complaints to the EEOC.
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Workplace discrimination takes many forms, including age, race, gender, and disability. All of these types of discrimination are illegal under federal law. A more recent type of job discrimination that has surfaced is pregnancy discrimination.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed in 1978 and amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add protection for women in the workforce who are pregnant or have recently had a child. It pertains to those women who are currently employed and those who are seeking employment. In a recent Indiana employment discrimination case, a local restaurant was accused of discriminating against both a current employee and an applicant because they were pregnant.

The first woman in the lawsuit was a server at the restaurant. In August 2010, she told her supervisor that she was pregnant, which she claims was required by the restaurant of all female employees. Her hours were allegedly cut immediately to about 50% of what she was working before she notified them of her pregnancy, and in January 2011 she was terminated. The second plaintiff in the lawsuit was a woman who claimed she applied for a job at the same restaurant in October 2010 but was denied employment because she was pregnant at the time.

In April, 2013, the restaurant settled the lawsuit with both women. The first woman who had been an actual employee of the restaurant received $18,000; the applicant received $8,000. In settling the case, the restaurant did not admit guilt, the owner stated they settled to avoid a costly trial. As a result of the settlement, the restaurant is no longer allowed to ask applicants if they are pregnant or require employees to inform their supervisors if they become pregnant. They also must have a written policy against sex discrimination, and specifically pregnancy discrimination, and they are required to have a way to handle these types of complaints in the future. If an employee requires a revised schedule due to pregnancy, her request must be accommodated.
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Everyone knows that sexual harassment is wrong and that it can lead to serious consequences if it occurs in the workplace. Some types of sexual harassment are very obvious, forcing oneself on another person, firing someone for refusing to have a sexual relationship, making continuous lewd comments or sexual requests. But some aspects of sexual harassment are a little less clear.

Touching someone else while at work can also be obvious sexual harassment, depending on where on the body the person is touched. As children, we are taught that places covered by our swimsuits should not be touched by others because they are private. This rule also applies to the workplace. But touching in other places can be considered sexual in nature as well.

Take for example the recent case in Oregon where a police captain touched several women on the upper leg. His chief stated the touching was not sexual in nature because the offender did not mean it to be, but several others begged to differ. A slap on the leg from one guy to another probably would not be considered sexual, but that is not what happened here. The captain touched several female subordinates on the upper thigh, and those who were touched said he either rubbed their leg or allowed his hand to linger.

First, it is not up to the person who is doing the touching to determine whether it was sexual or not. The person being touched is the one who determines if it made them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Second, because the person doing the touching was their supervising officer, the women probably felt more intimidated and unwilling to say anything about the behavior. Third, the upper thigh is a questionable area, unlike a shoulder or arm.
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Online social media and mobile communication are very prevalent in today’s society and are being used in all sorts of ways. They can be used to invite friends to a party, notify faraway relatives that a new baby has arrived, find long-lost friends from high school, and share decorating ideas and silly videos with people around the globe. Even charity efforts have gone mobile as phone apps have been created as a convenient way for people to help donate to those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, it can also be used in negative ways as well, such as harassment.

Supervisors and co-workers often find each other on social networks or share cell phone numbers to allow for easier communication. Sometimes it is easier to send a text regarding a work matter than it is to have an actual phone conversation. But these technologies can also be used in an abusive manner and result in workplace harassment or sexual harassment even when an employee is not at work.

There are many different ways a worker can be harassed electronically. If a supervisor repeatedly sends texts messages to an employee asking for a date or an intimate relationship, the employee may feel uncomfortable or threatened. This constitutes sexual harassment and can create a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can also occur when a supervisor or co-worker emails or posts pictures or jokes of a sexual nature that other employees find offensive. In a recent case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against a company because a manager was sending sexual texts to an employee, who told her supervisor. When the supervisor reported the harassment, the company allegedly retaliated against him by firing him. A settlement for $2.3 million was made by the company for both the sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Other types of harassment or workplace discrimination can also occur. If supervisors or co-workers are posting disparaging remarks regarding an employee’s disability, race, ethnicity, gender, or religion, this may also be discrimination. An employee was recently awarded $1.6 million by a court because co-workers had posted negative comments about his disability and his employer did not take any action when he reported the discrimination.
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In two separate cases, a former Louisville, Kentucky public works director has been accused of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. The director resigned at the end of August 2012. Although he denies his departure was in connection with any of the allegations, it certainly seems to be the case.

Sexual discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This portion of the act prohibits employers and supervisors from treating employees differently because of their race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. Employees cannot be turned down for employment, denied promotions, paid less, terminated, or otherwise treated unfairly because of any of these factors. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces this portion of the act by determining if an employee has a valid claim and contacting the company. If the company refuses to resolve the issue, a lawsuit will most likely be filed.

In the Kentucky sexual discrimination case, a public works employee claimed she was discriminated against because she was female. The lawsuit states she was denied a promotion for 18 months and was only given the job after complaints of potential sexual discrimination were made to the mayor. She was finally awarded the position in June 2012, but allegedly at a lower salary than her male predecessors.

According to the EEOC, “Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Sexual harassment involves actions by a supervisor or co-worker that makes an employee uncomfortable. Unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate touching, and the distribution of pictures, cartoons, or jokes of a sexual nature are just a few examples of sexual harassment. A one-time incident involving something of a mildly sexual nature is generally not enough to constitute harassment; it must be either frequent or serious enough to cause a hostile work environment.

In the Kentucky sexual harassment complaint against the public works director, he allegedly entered the employee’s cubicle on more than one occasion and hugged and kissed her without her consent. Non-consensual touching like this is quite serious, and the fact that it happened more than once makes it even worse.
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An ex-employee of the Hyattsville Police Department in Maryland has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city of Hyattsville. She joined the force in 2005 when she was 21 and stayed until she was allegedly forced to retire in 2009.

According to the lawsuit, the female police officer was frequently the victim of sexual harassment from her supervisors and coworkers while on the job. Perhaps the worst incident allegedly occurred in 2007 in Louisville, Kentucky. The officer was invited by her superior officer to attend a Fraternal Order of Police Conference there. During the conference, the suit claims that the superior officer took her into a men’s restroom and forced her to touch his crotch. Then later that night he allegedly came into her hotel room, climbed on top of her and tried to have sex with her. The female officer’s roommate allegedly helped to get him off of her. The female officer claims that nothing was done when she reported the incident and that she was even assigned to the offending officer’s squad after it happened. The city of Hyattsville disagrees with her claim, stating disciplinary action was taken against the superior officer, but they did not provide any details.

The female officer said the repeated sexual harassment and hostile work environment forced her to go on short-term disability because she suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. The suit also claims that she was retaliated against after reporting the harassment and she was eventually forced to retire and relocate in 2009.

Her lawsuit seeks an unknown amount of damages. The damages would cover her lost wages and benefits as a result of supposedly being forced to retire early. They would also compensate her for any mental or emotional distress incurred because of the harassment and retaliation. If a jury would rule in her favor, the police department would likely have to provide training to all personnel regarding avoiding sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to handle sexual harassment complaints when they occur. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) goal is not only to obtain justice for those who have been mistreated, but also to prevent that type of behavior in the future, so training and supervision from an outside party is frequently part of the award or settlement in this type of case.
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In 2009, an employee at the Fayette County Detention Center in Kentucky alleges that her supervisor sexually harassed her. Her lawsuit stated that he humiliated her in front of her co-workers and an inmate on separate occasions. She also claimed that he touched her breast. When she reported this behavior, she was supposedly a victim of retaliation as well. The lawsuit named the director of the detention center and the city. She was one of three women who filed lawsuits against the detention center alleging sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and retaliation.

This Kentucky sexual harassment case went to trial in March 2012. The jury handed down a split decision, which means they agreed with the plaintiff on some points and agreed with the defendants on others. The detention center director was excused from the case by the judge because he did not think the director played a role in the harassment. The jury found that the supervisor had indeed harassed the employee, but did not find any evidence that he actually touched her breast. Jurors also did not think there was enough evidence to prove her supervisor had retaliated against her after she complained about his behavior. They awarded the sexual harassment victim $60,000, most likely to cover any lost wages and to compensate her for any emotional or mental distress the alleged harassment may have caused her. Some of the damages may have been awarded simply to punish the city for allowing this to happen and to persuade city officials not to allow this to happen again at the detention center. Damages of this type are called “punitive damages.” The employee that was allegedly harassed says she is thankful that someone listened to her.

As a further blow to the city and its bank account, the judge agreed that the city was responsible for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees that accrued during the preparation and attending of the trial. They totaled just over $200,000. If the city decides to appeal this decision and loses, it will likely be held responsible for those additional attorneys’ fees as well.
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The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR) was founded in 1960 to help stop discrimination of people based on their race or ethnicity. When the Kentucky Civil Rights Act was passed in 1966, KCHR took on the task of enforcing this law throughout the state. This commission is similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against employees or potential employees based on age, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or disability. KCHR reviews complaints filed by employees to determine if they have a valid claim of discrimination, sexual harassment, or wrongful termination under state and federal employment laws.

Not all employers are governed by the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. An employer must have at least eight full-time workers for twenty or more weeks in a year for the act to apply. Federal anti-discrimination laws also may not apply to those businesses that have a small number of full-time employees. An employee must file a claim with KCHR within 180 days of the incident to have his or her claim considered.

Once a complaint is received by KCHR, an enforcement officer is assigned to the case to act as a neutral party between the employee and employer and investigate the claim. A letter is sent to the employer who has 20 days to respond with its side of the story. The officer will conduct an investigation, talking to witnesses and reviewing documentation. If he feels that discrimination most likely occurred, the case will be referred to a staff attorney. If he does not think discrimination occurred, he will recommend that the complaint be dismissed for “no probable cause.” Both sides will be encouraged to conciliate the case throughout the investigation, which is similar to settling a dispute out of court. If a conciliation agreement cannot be reached, the complaint will be heard by the KCHR and a decision will be made by the commission.
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