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Sexting, Text Message Flirtations, and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace in New Jersey

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.

A few months earlier, reported on a North Jersey city employee who filed a sexual harassment action after her city’s mayor allegedly “sexted” her several times. The messages allegedly “became more ‘prominent, salacious and illicit’” after the man won election to the mayor’s office. The texts “included pleas from the mayor to have her meet him at an Atlantic City hotel and multiple references to oral sex,” according to the employee.

Not all poor workplace behavior is actionable sexual harassment, but when the conduct crosses a line, you have rights. New Jersey law says that one way conduct can become sexual harassment is if it creates a “hostile work environment.” That happens when the conduct is “sexual, abusive, or offensive” and also is so severe or pervasive in nature that it would make a reasonable person of that victim’s gender think that “the conditions of employment have been altered and the working environment has become hostile or abusive.” It is important to note that, as an employee who has been a victim of sexual harassment, you only need to show that the conduct was severe or pervasive, but not necessarily both.

If your proof demonstrates that a reasonable woman (or man if you’re a male victim) in your shoes would believe that your choices were limited to providing sex or losing your job, your evidence could be enough to show that your workplace conditions had been altered and were adequately hostile or abusive to meet the legal standard to allow you to receive a favorable judgment and an award of compensation.

Some acts are merely bad behavior. Many others, though, like sending an unsolicited picture of naked genitals or demanding sex in exchange for continued employment, clearly cross a line legally. If you think you’ve been harassed, you should talk to counsel to find out more about your rights and your legal options. The diligent New Jersey sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates have spent many years working to help our clients protect themselves, their careers, and their rights. Reach us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

What ‘Quid Pro Quo’ Means for You as a Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment in New Jersey, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, April 4, 2018

How the Hostile Environment at Your Workplace May Entitle You to Compensation in a Sexual Harassment Case in New Jersey, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, March 28, 2018

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