Victims of workplace sexual harassment have been breaking their silence and telling their intensely personal stories—stories they have kept locked away for fear of the shame and humiliation that unfairly plagues the victims but not the abusers. Facebook and Twitter have logged millions of #metoo posts since news broke of the decades-long sexual abuse and harassment movie mogul Harvey Weinstein perpetrated upon now countless women.
Along with these horrifying tales comes the question: what can be done? The answer may be more than you’d think. Some issues to consider if you or someone close to you has been a victim of sexual harassment:
- What type of harassment are we talking about? The law recognizes two types of sexual harassment.
- Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a boss or someone else in a position of power conditions a workplace benefit—say, a raise or promotion, a job offer, or even a nicer office or exciting project—on providing or tolerating some form of sexual favor. Nearly all the reported incidents of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation fit this first type of sexual harassment.
- A hostile work environment exists when a person is subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct or communication which creates an intimidating or offensive work environment. It does not have to be the actions of a boss or someone with authority or power over you. Examples include obscene communications—sharing pornography in the workplace, for instance—as well as crude or sexist language used consistently and in a way that is plainly unacceptable.
- How long ago did this happen? Many of the #metoo stories, as awful as they are, happened a long time ago. And time is not the friend of a lawsuit.
- In Michigan, a victim would typically have no more than three years from the last act of harassment to bring her claim under the state civil rights law.
- And to bring claims under the federal civil rights law, Title VII, the victim typically must file her charge within 300 days of the last act of abuse.
- Even worse, many employers have required their employees to sign agreements—often found in the employee handbook and signed unknowingly—that reduce the time to bring any claim against the employer, including for sexual harassment, to a much shorter period of time.
Take notes and keep evidence! If you or someone close to you has experienced sexual harassment, it is crucial to ensure that she has some record of what happened. Save emails and text messages. Take pictures. Write down notes of exactly who said what, when they said it, and who might have witnessed the harassment. Evidence and specific, detailed records are the very best tools we have to bring your harasser(s) to justice. Good evidence, including detailed records from the time when the abuse took place, powerfully and completely shuts down any “he said she said” objections to your charges.
The laws also protect a victim who has come forward to complain of sexual harassment from retaliation. This protection applies both for internal complaints and for complaints to an outside agency like the EEOC or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
The #metoo movement has had a powerful effect on all of us. We are saddened and horrified by each story and by the enormity of the problem in our culture. But often there is something that can be done for individuals who have found the courage to speak up—they can sue the bastard!
At Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers, we have been achieving workplace justice for our clients for 25 years. If you believe you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, please call us at 248-398-9800.