Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

February, 2017


The latest figures published by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, (“EEOC”), the federal agency enforcing anti-discrimination laws, indicate that sexual harassment complaints increased by 2% in 2016 over the prior year (12,860 complaints in 2016).

If state and federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment have existed for many years, why are these complaints increasing?  The answer seems to lie in the employer’s inappropriate response to such complaints and to such unacceptable behavior at the workplace.

Sexual harassment can occur between employees and between a supervisor and an employee.

How does the law define sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;
  2. Submission to, or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual’s employment, evaluation, wages, advancement, assigned duties, shifts or career development; or

Such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

A partial list of conduct which may constitute sexual harassment, includes:

  • Repeated offensive, sexual advances, propositions, or comments, sexual flirtation,
  • Discussing sexual activities,
  • Commenting about an individual’s body or physical appearance;
  • Displaying sexually suggestive pictures, cartoons or drawings,
  • Using unseemly gestures,
  • Using crude and offensive language, sexually explicit jokes,
  • Unnecessary touching; and
  • Retaliation against an employee for reporting sexual harassment.

Many times, when faced with a sexual harassment complaint, employers react in ways which only increase their legal liability.  Some of these inappropriate responses include:

  • Failing to take every complaint seriously;
  • Not taking action unless a formal complaint is received;
  • Reaching hasty conclusions or allowing prejudice to affect decisions;
  • Prejudicially crediting a supervisor’s account of the incident(s) over the subordinate’s complaint where the supervisor is the alleged harasser;
  • Not following the company’s procedure in processing/investigating a sexual harassment complaint;
  • Not protecting complainants against retaliation for the protected activity of making the complaint.

The Busca Law Firm has resolved sexual harassment complaints early in the process and litigated such complaints in state and federal court.  Ironically, this month, a sexual harassment complaint will be filed with the Connecticut agency charged with enforcing state and federal discrimination law, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, (“CHRO”).

If you believe you are the victim of sexual harassment, consult with an experienced employment attorney to understand your rights under law.





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