An employer cannot use their position of power or authority to sexually harass and assault their employees. Sexual harassment violates both state and federal law. Unfortunately, every day we see news reports about another high-profile sexual harassment case where victims are being mistreated or unheard. Victims of sexual harassment rarely feel comfortable bringing their claims forward due to fear of retaliation, embarrassment, or lack of support. In short, they don’t have an advocate on their side. This is why many sexual harassment claims go unreported in California and across the United States each year. But we hope to change that. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, we are here to fight aggressively on your behalf to make sure the perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) outlines several categories of harassment based on sex. If your employer harasses you based on your gender, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and other medical conditions, you can be protected by FEHA. FEHA goes on to further define sexual harassment:
In California, the employee who committed the harassment is personally liable for the victim’s damages regardless if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment. While our firm will always pursue damages against the employee who committed the harassment, the employee may often be “judgment proof” or simply lacking financial resources to compensate the victim for their damages. Because of this common occurrence, our firm makes sure we include in any lawsuit all individuals and entities responsible, in whole or in part, for the harassment.
An employer will be held strictly liable if the harassment of the victim was perpetrated by either a supervisor or by the employer himself/herself. This means that the employer is liable for the victim’s damages regardless if the employer knows or should have known about the harassment and regardless if they took corrective action. Time and time again we have seen how the position of power a supervisor or employer exerts over their employees makes these types of claims relatively common and even more egregious.
Lastly, the employer is liable for damages stemming from sexual harassment when the employer knew or should have known about the harassing behavior but failed to take the appropriate steps or corrective actions to remedy the problem.
Before a victim is allowed to bring a lawsuit for sexual harassment, they must first file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment (DFEH). This administrative complaint allows the DFEH to conduct an investigation into the claim to decide if they are going to take action against the employer. If the DFEH decides not to bring a civil action within 150 days of your filing of the complaint, then you can request a “right-to-sue” notice. Once you obtain this “right-to-sue” notice, you then have the right to file an independent lawsuit in court.
Victims of sexual harassment may pursue variety of damages as part of their lawsuit, including monetary damages to compensate them for their losses. Moreover, if the victim prevails in their lawsuit against the employer, they may also be entitled to the following remedies:
In rare instances, you may also be entitled to punitive damages against the employer. In order to obtain punitive damages, you must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the conduct amounted to malice, oppression, or fraud.
Understanding your rights is empowering. You have the right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace; no one should have to endure sexual harassment. To that end, you should obtain a copy of your employer’s sexual harassment policy so that you know the proper process and procedure to address the issue. In general, you will want to file a claim to the appropriate person within the company, usually a representative in Human Resources. If your complaint is not addressed, you may also want to consider filing a claim with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment.
Most importantly, you should reach out to a knowledgeable and experienced sexual harassment attorney for advice on how to move forward with your claim. Even after bravely coming forward with your claim, you should expect a vigorous response and defense by the harasser. With an experienced sexual harassment attorney fighting for you on your side, you can rest assured that your rights will be protected and that the harasser will be held accountable for his/her actions.