Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

By D. Elizabeth Masterson, Esquire, Kilgore & Kilgore PLLC
For more information, click here Sexual Harassment

Are you being sexually harassed in the workplace? Sexual Harassment can be experienced at work in many different ways: you may be verbally or physically harassed or abused; you may receive inappropriate text messages, voicemail messages or email messages (including inappropriate jokes or website links); you may be harassed because of your gender; you may work in an environment where business is conducted at topless bars; you be in a hostile working environment in which other employees are harassed; or you may even be required to perform sexual acts in order to keep your job or to be considered for promotions. Furthermore, you may be retaliated against for complaining about sexual harassment or a sexually hostile environment.

You may have a claim for Sexual Harassment even if the unwelcomed conduct occurs between employees of the same gender. In Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court found that where a male oil rig worker was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment by his male co-workers with the acquiescence of his employer, the male oil rig worker had stated a claim of sex harassment. The court found that any discrimination based on sex is actionable so long as it places the victim in an objectively disadvantageous working condition, regardless of the gender of either the victim or the harasser.

If you are being sexually harassed or discriminated against, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself and your job. Your first line of defense is to raise your concerns to upper management or your human resources department. If your employer fails to take quick action to address the harassment, and assuming that your employer employs at least 15 employees, your next step is to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC“) or the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). If your employer employs less than 15 employees in total, you may be unable to proceed with a sex harassment suit. However, if the situation at your place of work is so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond the bounds of decency, you may be able to pursue a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In Texas, you must file your Sexual Harassment complaint with the TWC within 180 days of your employer’s latest discriminatory act, or you must file your complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of your employer’s latest discriminatory act. If you live in a state other than Texas, different filing deadlines may apply. Filing your complaint with the EEOC or TWC and letting the commission investigate your claim is known as exhausting your administrative remedies: you must fulfill this requirement before you can file a case in court. You may want to contact an attorney before filing your complaint with the EEOC or TWC to see if the attorney can take your case and help you with the EEOC or TWC process.

After you file your complaint with the EEOC, the EEOC may contact your employer and investigate your complaint. The EEOC may work with your employer to clean up the workplace. The EEOC may mediate your case or issue a conciliation agreement in an attempt to resolve your complaint. If the EEOC is unable to resolve your complaint, you will receive a Notice of Right to Sue, at which time you can file a lawsuit. You may receive your Notice of Right to Sue the same day that you file your complaint, or it may take several months to receive. If the EEOC issues you a Notice of Right to Sue, you will have 90 days in which to file your lawsuit in federal court. If the TWC issues your Notice of Right to Sue, you will have 60 days in which to file your lawsuit in state court.