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Holiday Parties Can Still Be a Breeding Ground for Sexual Harassment, Both in New Jersey and Beyond

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are again upon us. Along with gifts, food and family get-togethers, many people’s holidays in New Jersey also include holiday parties put on by their employers. For a lot of folks, these events are fun, or at least professionally productive. For too many people, though, these events are fraught with navigating offensive conduct… or worse.

Regardless of who has engaged in the offensive conduct – be it a co-worker or a supervisor – part of the legal blame may lie with the employer, making the employer liable under state or federal law for discrimination or sexual harassment. Check with an experienced New Jersey sexual harassment attorney about the specifics of your situation to find what legal options may best help you.

The headlines across 2019 have revealed that, even after the emergence of #MeToo and other forms of heightened awareness regarding sexual harassment, misconduct at holiday parties is still an issue. Tinder is a dating app that, according to some observers, offered users the option to pursue sex without a relationship. According to one former marketing executive at the company, the company’s former CEO appeared to think that the company’s holiday party offered him the opportunity to pursue sexual activity without consent. The former VP’s lawsuit, filed this past summer, alleged that the man, who was still CEO at the time of the party, made sexually graphic comments to her, then later followed her to her hotel room, where he forcibly groped her breasts and kissed her, according to a Yahoo! report.

More recently, just a few weeks ago, KDSK reported on a former employee of a St. Louis law firm, who alleged that she was attacked by two attorneys at the firm’s holiday party. The former employee alleged that she was drugged at the party prior to the attack.

While both events occurred outside New Jersey and neither has yet been proven true (either in criminal or civil court,) both instances are nevertheless reminders of inappropriate things that can (and certainly have) happen at New Jersey holiday parties.

Many times, the person who engages in sexually harassing conduct toward you at a holiday party may be especially overt, unrelenting and uninhibited because his/her conduct is fueled (at least in part) by alcohol, which is commonly served (sometimes in unlimited quantities) at company holiday parties.

There are many facts that may contribute to an employer’s legal liability in a circumstance like this. Was attendance at the party mandatory (or de facto mandatory)? Was there alcohol at the party and, if so, were limits placed on attendees’ alcohol consumption? If you were harmed at a mandatory event with an open bar, these facts may significantly strengthen your case.

In a lot of circumstances, that instance of your supervisor drunkenly groping you at the holiday party wasn’t the only sexually harassing act he’d ever done to you. There may have been inappropriate statements made at work, such as comments about your body, your clothes or your general level of sexual attractiveness. Each of these may be things that, by themselves, are insufficient to amount to a hostile work environment. However, when all of them are put together, they may offer clear proof that yours was indeed a hostile work environment.

Sometimes, just a single act many be enough to show a ‘hostile work environment’

Also keep in mind that, just because you only have one event in support of your claim, that does not necessarily mean your case is factually inadequate. Even just one incident at your company’s holiday party may be enough if the conduct was outrageous enough. The woman at the law firm party alleged that she was drugged and forced to perform sex acts. The VP at the Tinder party alleged that her company’s CEO “climbed on top of” her and engaged in “forcibly groping her breasts and upper thighs, and kissing her shoulders, neck and chest.”  These kinds of things, if they happened to you in New Jersey, could well be enough to meet that legal requirement of outrageousness and give you a successful result, even in the absence of any other acts of wrongful conduct.

Workplace discrimination and sexual harassment can take many forms, including disturbingly physical forms, and occur at various locations. Sometimes, it’s at the office; other times, it is outside the office – like at the company holiday party. Wherever it occurred, it may provide you with the basis to obtain significant compensation for the harm you suffered. Reach out to the skilled New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates to find out more. Our attorneys have been providing harmed workers in New Jersey with helpful advice and diligent advocacy for many years and are ready to get to work for you. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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