Most all of us have heard the phrase “he said she said.” It often conjured to mind scenarios where there’s little evidence available other than the statements made by the individuals involved. When your “he said she said” incident is also a case of sexual harassment or sex discrimination where you were the victim, the whole thing may seem incredibly daunting. Don’t be intimidated, though. Instead, get in touch with a New Jersey sex discrimination lawyer who can help you map the best route forward.
One reason not to despair is something called a “motion for summary judgment.” This is something that the defense often does and, when successful, it gets your case thrown out of court before ever making it to trial. When unsuccessful, though, it opens many doors, including giving you your day in court and also, many times, leading the defense to approach settlement (if you potentially are open to a settlement) in a more fair, reasonable, and meaningful way.
“He said she said” cases are often prime examples of the kinds of cases in which the defense is not entitled to a summary judgment. Take, for example, the case of A.M., a port authority locomotive engineer who alleged that she endured a sex-related hostile work environment.
In April 2011, one day after allegedly taking an unscheduled bathroom break, the engineer had an encounter with her chief operations examiner, A.A., and an operations examiner, C.L.
According to the engineer, the incident unfolded this way: at the end of her shift, A.A. grabbed her by the elbow and demanded that she accompany him to make copies of the incident report regarding her unscheduled bathroom break, telling her she would lose her job if she didn’t come.
A.A. led her to the operations field office, which was a very small room. Once inside, C.L. blocked the door with his arm. The engineer demanded to leave but A.A. told her that “it’s not what you want, it’s what we want from you.” The engineer made some phone calls, including telling a director’s secretary that she was being held against her will by two male supervisors. She also tried to call 911 but, at that point, A.A. took the phone and hung it up. In the process, he “touched, brushed, or grabbed” her breast.
The employer depicted the interaction vastly differently. According to the employer, the incident occurred as follows: A.A., wanting to speak to the engineer privately about the unscheduled break due to gaps in the engineer’s incident report, approached the engineer after her shift. He did not touch her in any way.
The field office was a small room but, nevertheless, A.A. never grabbed the engineer’s breast or “physically touch or brush up against” the engineer at all at any point.
As is clear, these are two drastically divergent recitations of alleged facts when it comes to several key points.
Whatever else that might mean for you, it is not a fatal problem when you’re seeking to defeat a motion for summary judgment filed by your employer in your hostile work environment case. The law says that a defendant can get a case thrown out via a summary judgment only when there is no possible set of facts that could produce a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, even if everything you said was true, the law would still require that you lose.
The 4 Elements of a Hostile Work Environment
To win a hostile work environment case in federal court, you need proof of four things. Those are: (1) that you “suffered intentional discrimination because of” your sex, (2) that the discrimination was severe or pervasive, (3) that the discrimination harmed you, and (4) that the discrimination would harm a reasonable person in your position.
As the court pointed out, the engineer alleged that she was held against her will in a small room, with her alleged harasser grabbing or touching her breast during that time. These facts, if proven true, would be enough to establish the required criteria. The comments and the touching of the engineer’s breast would be enough to establish the conduct as severe and occurring “because of sex,” which harmed the engineer and would have harmed any reasonable woman in her position. The engineer had viably pled each of the four elements of her case and was entitled to continue proceeding forward.
Don’t make the mistake of believing that you have to “put up with” sexual harassment or sex discrimination on the job or that, even if there were few or no witnesses to the hostile work environment you endured, you cannot win a case in court. Instead, get in touch with the aggressive and experienced New Jersey sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to find how we can help you. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.