Sexual Harassment & Hostile Work Environment

Sexual Harassment Lawyer – Charleston, SC

Sexual harassment is considered an illegal form of gender discrimination under Title VII, as well as under some state-specific anti-discrimination laws. While sexual harassment can involve actual requests or bribes by supervisors to employees for sexual favors (which is referred to as quid pro quo harassment), it more often involves conduct by a supervisor, co-worker or non-employee that creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment because of the employee’s gender.

An employee can establish a hostile work environment if he or she can show: (1) membership in a protected class; (2) that he or she was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) a causal connection existed between the harassment the employee suffered and the employee’s membership in the protected group; and (4) that the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect a term, condition or privilege of employment.

Unwelcome conduct may be directly sexual in nature, such as comments about an employee’s clothing, looks, marital status, or the like. Non-sexual conduct of an employer, however, may also be actionable if the conduct is directed to the employee because of his or her gender. For example, if a supervisor uses vulgar or demeaning names when referring to women, but not when referring to men, such conduct would likely be actionable.

Employers are strictly liable for a supervisor’s harassment of an employee where the employee is subjected to a tangible employment action, such as termination, demotion or even an undesirable change in hours. Employers are also vicariously liable for a supervisor’s harassment in situations where no adverse employment action is taken against the employee, but the employer has an affirmative defense in this scenario if it can show that (1) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior and that (2) the employee victim unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective measures or opportunities provided by the employer.