Texas Sexual Harassment Law
What Texas Employers Must Know About Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful.
Law makers and courts have established meaningful remedies for women who have been subjected to workplace sexual harassment.
At Wood Edwards have experience representing employers who face claims of sexual harassment.
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What constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace?
Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination established by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The act ended segregation and is considered one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to include:
- Requests for sexual favors.
- Undesired visual conduct such as degrading and/or sexual pictures, cartoons, emails, letters, and drawings.
- Inappropriate physical contact, including undesired touching or groping or anything that interferes with work.
- Lascivious behavior, including inflammatory language.
- Harassing phone calls or inappropriate love letters.
- Threats or demands to give yourself into sexual requests as a means of keeping one’s job.
- Offers of employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors.
Sexual harassment laws protect employees against severe or pervasive conduct. This means that whereas outright severe actions may be actionable sexual harassment, isolated comments or one-time gestures are not likely to be considered unlawful.
In most cases, harassment needs to be pervasive to be actionable; this is to say that it needs to be outright, not subtle, widely spread. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor or other authority figure offers advances within the company in exchange for sexual favors from an employee.
Reporting Harassment in the Workplace
In many cases, filing an internal complaint, perhaps to Human Resources, is a necessary first step for a sexual harassment claim to be valid. The best course is to do so in writing, so that there is no argument later about you said. This action is very significant since failing to report an incident as unlawful harassment could result in no compensation for the harassment being possible.
However, if you believe you have been sexually harassed, your first step should be to contact an attorney for advice.
Preconditions for Filing an Employment Discrimination Case
Perhaps the most important condition for a discrimination case is time. Usually, an employee should act within 180 days for Texas state law claims and within 300 days for federal law claims. It is usually thought that the deadline begins as soon as the employee should have known about the adverse action. Before filing a lawsuit, the employee must file a complaint with the EEOC or the Texas state equivalent. Call a lawyer for help in doing so.
Another requirement for employment discrimination suits is that the company being sued have 15 or more employees. This is the case for nearly all discrimination cases, including sexual harassment.
Injunctive relief occurs when a court orders a specific act or condition to be prohibited. This can occur in appropriate cases if it is established that the employer is guilty of unlawful harassment.
Retaliation by Employers Against Employees is Barred
Often, employees who are sexually harassed fail to report it out of fear for retaliation. Fortunately, sexual harassment laws forbids an employer from retaliating against an employee who reports actions that the employee believes in good faith to constitute sexual harassment. If an employer does unlawfully retaliate against someone who has reported sexual harassment, the employee may have a claim for unlawful retaliation. Sometimes, the retaliation claim can be more viable than the underlying sexual harassment claim is.
How Employers Can Prevent Harassment
Not surprisingly, harassment claims can be very harmful for companies. They can damage a company’s reputation, can cost substantial money in attorneys’ fees, and can take up substantial time in having to deal with them. Employers can decrease their potential exposure by training their employees, and by having effective anti-harassment and discrimination policies.
An effective policy will inform employees to whom they can make internal complaints of sexual harassment. Obviously, the employee’s only reporting option should not be her supervisor. She should also be able to make a report to Human Resources, to in-house counsel, or to upper management. And a company’s sexual harassment training should emphasize that the company has no tolerance for behavior which might be perceived as harassing.
Recoverable damages in sexual harassment claims
Victims of sexual harassment, if they prevail in court, can be entitled to economic damages, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. Damages caps apply, based upon the number of employees that the company has.
If you are wanting to assert a legal claim, quitting is often the worst thing you can do. Many times, it is much better to fight the unlawful harassment while you are still there, rather than to quit and then try to do something about it. Making an “I was forced to resign claim” can be very difficult.
What Should I do?
If you’re an employer facing accusations of sexual harassment, contact us today. We can advise you on the best course.