Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

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In an important new decision from the federal courts, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a secretary could pursue her sexual harassment case even though she did not report the harassment she allegedly endured. The new appeals court opinion acknowledges the complicated dynamics that can exist for some workers and the very real and very damaging risks they can face by choosing to stand up and report their harassers to their employers. Whether or not you reported your harassment right away, you may have legal options. Be sure to contact an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney about your situation.

The secretary, S.M., started working for a Pennsylvania county in 2009. Her supervisor started engaging in unwelcome physical contact soon thereafter. The two frequently worked in a setting where they were the only ones present. The supervisor also allegedly sent the secretary sexually explicit emails, to which she did not respond.

The county was aware of some of the supervisor’s inappropriate behaviors. Twice, the supervisor’s supervisor became aware of the man’s inappropriate conduct toward other female employees and issued reprimands to him. Beyond the verbal reprimands, no further action was taken against the man.

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The recent news from a small Union County borough was genuinely shocking. Several employees of the borough’s police brought a Law Against Discrimination action against the borough, asserting that several fellow employees, including the chief, had engaged in numerous actions that created a hostile work environment. The array of allegations ranged from absurd to dangerous to repugnant. If proven, the allegations would almost certainly amount to a hostile work environment. The allegations are a reminder that a hostile work environment can happen in a variety of settings, and, if it has happened to you, you should reach out to a skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorney about your situation.

The complaint, filed on May 11 and reported by a week later, put forward some serious allegations. According to the plaintiffs, the misdeeds included the extensive use of a blue sex toy in various jokes (and associated homophobic comments), the department’s top detective’s penchant for removing all of his clothes and trying to surprise co-workers in the locker room while he was naked, and a grotesque practice involving one officer’s genitals, the food or drink of unsuspecting co-workers, and photographic images of the combination. Furthermore, there was an allegation of an employee asking to sniff a female employee’s chair.

Then there were homophobic, sexist, and racist jokes, according to the complaint. In addition, the plaintiffs had photographic proof of the detective’s use of the sex toy and video of one male employee being harassed with the same toy.

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Outside New Jersey, entertainment giant ESPN made headlines recently when one of its former employees filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer. The woman asserted, as the basis for her sexual harassment claim, that one of the network’s well-known on-air male personalities sent her sexually harassing texts, including an unsolicited one in which the man was shirtless, according to the Chicago Tribune. Inside the state, recent New Jersey sexual harassment actions have included allegations of texts requesting oral sex and attaching pictures of the sender’s uncovered genitals. With all of this sexting in the news, it is important as an employee to know:  when does sexting become workplace sexual harassment? The answer often depends on the exact facts of your case. If you think you have been sexually harassed at work through texts, emails, or other electronic correspondence, you should reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney promptly.

The most recent news was the sizable settlement in a state government worker’s sexual harassment case against a supervisory employee, according to an report. Latrece was an employee for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. She was presumably focused on the division’s mission of ensuring “the safety, permanency, and well-being of children.” The manager of the Paterson office, however, was apparently focused on something else, according to Latrece’s lawsuit. In addition to various other sexually harassing actions (that included lifting her clothes, grabbing her breasts, and exposing his genitals), the manager texted lewd messages to Latrece, according to the woman’s complaint. The manager also allegedly sent the employee images of his naked genitals via text message.

The state settled the case, agreeing to pay Latrece $350,000.

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One of the recurring challenges that many people in the workplace face these days is the employer’s requirement that they sign documents waiving certain rights in exchange for employment or continued employment. These agreements can include provisions like clauses that mandate arbitration of all work-related disputes between employer and employee. That can possibly mean that, even if you have very strong proof of illegal harassment or discrimination, you may be blocked from getting that case in front of a jury. As is true of any legal document, especially those that involve forfeiting rights, know before you sign and consult a knowledgeable New Jersey harassment lawyer about the impact those documents could have on you.

One worker whose signature did hurt her harassment case was Kuashema, a salesperson for a furniture store in Hudson County. According to the saleswoman, hers was a hostile work environment. She alleged in a lawsuit that she was subjected to music that used the N-word along with various misogynistic slurs. She also asserted that the N-word and a certain anti-gay slur were frequently used at her work. According to Kuashema, she complained about the work environment conditions, but, not only did the hostile work environment conditions continue, but also the employer fired her in retaliation for making a complaint.

The saleswoman was not able to go forward to trial in her lawsuit, however. Her inability to do so was not a result of any factual weakness in her case. Kuashema’s case was thrown out because, while she still worked for the furniture company, she signed something the employer called the “Associate’s Agreement & Consent.” This document included within it a provision that said that employees agreed to resolve all employment disputes by utilizing the Employee Arbitration Program. In other words, the agreement had a mandatory arbitration clause in it, and Kuashema was, as a result, locked into arbitrating instead of litigating her claim.

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Sexual harassment is an especially insidious form of workplace misconduct because of the particular extent to which it debases and dehumanizes the victim. This is especially true in one of the two major varieties of sexual harassment, called “quid pro quo” harassment. This type of harassment involves an employer basing employment decisions (hiring, firing, promotion, demotion, number of hours assigned, etc.) on the employee’s willingness or unwillingness to submit to unwanted sexual advances. All workers have a right to perform their jobs without being subjected to these types of unethical behaviors, and to have their work judged on their merit, rather than on the provision (or refusal) of sexual favors. If you have suffered from quid pro quo sexual harassment, or hostile work environment harassment, you should contact an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney promptly about your situation.

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that generally translates to “something for something.” As the courts have clearly indicated, this can exist in more than one possible way. One way is when submitting to such demands is “made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.” (In other words, providing sex becomes part of the arrangement for employment.) The other is when “submission to or rejection of [sex] is used as the basis for employment decisions.” (In other words, the employer takes an employment action regarding an employee because that employee did or did not provide sex.)

All of these types of quid pro quo sexual harassment are illegal under both federal and state laws. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on several bases, including sex. The law has made it very clear that sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based upon sex. Additionally, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination bars both quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment harassment.

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In the age of the #metoo movement, sexual harassment is in the news now more than ever. Various employers are taking a renewed look at how to eliminate harassment and abuse in their workplaces. With regard to the law in New Jersey, there are actually multiple different ways that you can be a victim of sexual harassment at work. One way involves someone at work basing your employment treatment (such as promotions/demotions, raises, or continued employment) on whether or not you provide sexual favors to that person.

Another form of harassment occurs when behaviors toward you, which might possibly include groping, touching, comments not appropriate for work, explicit or vulgar jokes, insults, epithets, or pornography, become so extreme or extensive that they would make any reasonable person feel intimidated or threatened. This latter form of harassment is called hostile work environment, and it can be the basis of a valid sexual harassment lawsuit under both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and federal law. If you have suffered sexual harassment so hostile that it altered the conditions of your job, you should reach out right away to a New Jersey hostile work environment attorney.

In order to have a winnable claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment, you have to demonstrate to the court that the harassment you endured was either “severe or pervasive.” It is possible to have a valid hostile work environment claim based upon only a single incident if that single event was sufficiently extreme and offensive. A federal court last year decided that two African-American men had a valid harassment case based upon a supervisor’s single use of the “n-word.” While that wasn’t an incident of sexual harassment, the workers’ success in court illustrates how a plaintiff can succeed with only evidence of isolated acts if those acts (or single act) were adequately egregious.

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If you’re familiar with Latin words used in the law, you’ve probably heard the phrase “quid pro quo.” Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that basically means “something for something.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment is a situation in which someone offers improper employment benefits in exchange for sex, or, more commonly, an employee suffers harm on the job as a result of refusing sexual advances. This can be one of the most intimidating forms of sexual harassment, since it places you in fear of losing your income. If you’ve suffered from quid pro quo harassment at work, you should reach out right away to a knowledgeable New Jersey sexual harassment attorney.

One employee whose case was an example of this type of harassment was Rochelle, an employee of a major auto parts store. The harassment of Rochelle began only two months after she started a sales representative position at the chain’s Newark location. Nicola began telling others that Rochelle was a prostitute. Rochelle complained, but Nicola retaliated by increasing Rochelle’s workload. The store manager also allegedly suspended Rochelle for complaining about the harassment.

Eventually, Rochelle complained to human resources, and they transferred her to the Irvington store. There, the parts sales manager made unwanted sexual advances toward, and contact with, Rochelle. After Rochelle rejected the man’s sexual advances, he retaliated against her at work. When the corporate headquarters learned of the harassment at Irvington, they transferred Rochelle to the East Orange store. The employer also, however, transferred Rochelle’s harasser from Irvington to East Orange. At East Orange, the man retaliated against Rochelle for not giving him sex by cutting her hours from 40 per week to 32. Rochelle also alleged in her lawsuit that she was denied a promotion because she complained to human resources about the harassment.

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Most people in the country have, over the last several weeks, become familiar with the Harvey Weinstein story. Multiple accusers have alleged that the Hollywood producer sexually assaulted or harassed them. Some were actresses, while others were assistants who worked for the producer. Several of these allegations date back to the early to mid-1990s. Some have asked why the producer’s alleged victims waited years, and even decades, to speak out. While there are numerous reasons why a victim might delay in speaking out publicly, for some, there was a very black-and-white one:  they reached a settlement of their legal claims against the producer, and one of the terms of those agreements was their silence. If you are a victim of New Jersey sexual harassment or sex discrimination, potential settlements are one area in which an experienced attorney can be invaluable. Your experienced counsel can help you assess whether a settlement is in your best interest and, if you were to sign, exactly what your contractual obligations would be under that agreement.

A non-disclosure term is a common clause in almost any settlement agreement that resolves the potential legal claims one party might have against another party. The potential defendant pays the potential plaintiff a sum of money, the plaintiff forever gives up her right to sue, and both sides agree never to discuss the confidential details of the agreement. If a bill currently under consideration in the New Jersey legislature becomes law, that process may change in this state when it comes to sexual harassment and discrimination cases. State Sen. Loretta Weinberg proposed SB 3581, a bill that would prohibit employers from using non-disclosure provisions to keep victims of workplace sexual harassment from speaking up, according to an report.

The bill, as proposed, would not only bar employers from setting up such non-disclosure agreements when the victim was one of sexual harassment, but also apply to any situation in which the employee was a victim of a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The bill would clarify the law to establish explicitly that a non-disclosure agreement in this type of scenario is against New Jersey public policy and, as a result, is unenforceable.

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It is that time of year again. The holidays are upon us. For many working individuals, the holidays will also mean holiday parties held by their employers. While holiday parties can be a fun and festive time, they can also be a source of problems for both employees and employers if an employee, perhaps fueled by an abundance of alcohol, crosses the line and engages in sexual harassment. Unfortunately, holiday party-related sexual harassment happens too often, and, if it happens to you, you should promptly reach out to an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney to help you protect your rights.

In many instances, employees are less inhibited at holiday parties than they are in a conventional business setting. Sometimes, this is a result of alcohol. Other times, even without alcohol, the mere presence of the party atmosphere and removal of the office setting influences improper actions. These two factors mean that holiday parties can be, as one New Jersey employment attorney speaking to called them, “a breeding ground for sexual harassment claims.”

There are several ways that employers can be pro-active to reduce the risk of potential cases of sexual harassment at a holiday party. The employer could, for example, eliminate alcohol from the party or could seek to limit consumption. (For example, Huffington Post reported on changes at the Vox Media party in Brooklyn, where that employer decided that it would “ramp up the food and cut down on the drinks.” That new practice included giving each person two drink tickets instead of having an open bar.) The employer could also eliminate practices like “gag gift” exchanges, since some gag gifts could be inappropriate.

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An important New Jersey sexual harassment ruling from the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals is useful for employees who may have been victims of sexual harassment at work. The new ruling highlights who can qualify as a “supervisor” for the purposes of triggering employer liability in a sexual harassment case. The new ruling concluded that a foreman who handed out work assignments did qualify, and the woman he allegedly harassed was entitled to pursue her case.

The case involved Michelle, who, in 2011, obtained work as a substitute custodian with the Atlantic City schools. That meant that Michelle performed work on a “fill-in” basis but was not guaranteed a certain amount of work, or any assignments at all. Interested in increasing her volume of work, Michelle introduced herself to several custodial foremen. One foreman allegedly engaged in multiple acts of harassment. There was unwanted groping, invitations to the foreman’s office where the foreman was sitting unclothed, and promises of favorable work assignments in exchange for sex, according to the woman.

Allegedly fearing that her job was in jeopardy, Michelle had sex with the foreman once, but she consistently rejected his advances after that. Following her rejection of the foreman, the custodian believed that the foreman began treating her differently. She notified Human Resources, which investigated and concluded that the custodian did not suffer from sexual harassment or discrimination.

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