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Employee Rights and New York Employment Laws

Sexual Harassment in the WorkplaceUpstate New York Sexual Harassment Lawyers

PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS!  Despite increased public awareness about sexual harassment, statistics unfortunately show that sexual harassment is more common than most people believe.

For Example, a 2008 study by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) found:

  • 54% of respondents had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment.
  • 27% of those harassed experienced harassment by their colleague, while 17% were harassed by their supervisor.
  • 79% of the victims are women; 21% were men.
  • 12% had received threats of termination if they did not comply with the requests of the sexual harassers.
  • 66.6% of victims were not aware of their employer’s policy on sexual harassment.

These statistics are alarming and show that most companies do not do enough to prevent sexual harassment.

OVERVIEW OF THE TYPICAL SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIM

Sexual harassment is a serious form of gender discrimination that is unacceptable and should never be tolerated. Sexual Harassment takes many forms: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for  sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an individual’s work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. For example:

  • The harasser could be the victim’s supervisor or co-worker
  • The harasser could be an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, or in some cases a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

There are two forms of sexual harassment: Quid pro quo sexual harassment and Hostile work environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or other employee with control over the terms of your employment demands that you give in to his/her sexual demands in exchange for employment benefits such as promotions, raises, favorable work schedules, or other perks.

A hostile work environment may exist where the work environment is made uncomfortable because of written or verbal sexual comments, jokes, slurs, and other offensive language or conduct. Certainly a hostile work environment can also be created where unwanted sexual advances or touching has occurred.

PREVENTION

The best way for an Employer to prevent sexual harassment is to properly train and educate its staff. Employers should take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring by clearly communicating the message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. The Employer should establish an effective policy with a clear complaint process. When a Complaint is made, the Employer should promptly investigate and take remedial action where appropriate.

It is unlawful to retaliate against an individual who makes a Complaint of sexual harassment. It is also unlawful to retaliate against any other person who opposes sexual harassment (even if not directed at him/her). It is critical that all employees understand that retaliation will not be tolerated.

REMEDIES

Sexual harassment is a devastating form of discrimination which is prohibited by both New York State and Federal Law. Many local laws (most notably New York City’s Human Rights Law) also prohibit sexual harassment.

The law provides a powerful incentive for Employers to take steps to prevent sexual harassment. While each case is different, the goal of the law is to put the victim of harassment in the same position that he or she would have been if the harassment had never occurred.

Under Federal Law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) the following damages are available to a victim of sexual harassment:

  • In cases of demotion; wrongful termination; constructive discharge; or failure to promote: past and future lost wages, job search costs; and, in some cases, reinstatement.
  • Damages for emotional harm suffered (such as mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life).
  • Medical expenses
  • The employer also will be required to stop any discriminatory practices and take steps to prevent discrimination in the future.

A successful plaintiff will also be awarded attorneys’ fees; expert witness fees; and court costs.

Punitive damages may be awarded to punish an employer who has committed an especially malicious or reckless act of discrimination.

Federal law limits the amount of compensatory, future lost wages and/or punitive damages as follows:

  • For employers with 15-100 employees, the limit is $50,000.
  • For employers with 101-200 employees, the limit is $100,000.
  • For employers with 201-500 employees, the limit is $200,000.
  • For employers with more than 500 employees, the limit is $300,000.

Under the New York State Human Rights Law, a victim of sexual harassment can be awarded the same types of compensatory damages allowed under federal law (Title VII), BUT, there is no statutory limit or cap on the amount of compensatory damages.

Punitive damages and attorneys’ fees or costs, however, are not recoverable under the New York State Human Rights Law.

Under the New York City Human Rights Law, there is no limit on compensatory damages. Punitive damages and attorneys’ fees are available under the NYCHRL, as are reinstatement, back pay and front pay.

We Are Here to Help

If you believe that you have been the victim of unlawful harassment, please call or email us to set up a free, confidential consultation so that we may discuss the particulars of your situation.

If you are an Employer that wants to learn more about how to prevent harassment, how to properly respond to a claim of harassment; or have been sued and need an experienced employment attorney to defend against the charges, please contact us to set up a free consultation.

Our experienced employment attorneys regularly appear before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), New York State Division of Human Rights, Federal District Court and New York State Courts when representing our clients in employment discrimination matters.

E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy represents clients throughout New York State (including but not limited to Albany County, Schenectady County, Rensselaer County, and Saratoga County).  Contact us today to schedule a confidential meeting at one of our four convenient office locations in Albany, Latham, Troy or Saratoga Springs.  We are here to help.