Sexual Harassment Law

Sexual harassment in Georgia involves intimidation or coercion of an unwelcome sexual nature or the promise of rewards for sexual favors. Sexual harassment comes in many forms and can involve full blown sexual assaults, discrimination, verbal taunting and touching.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC) wrote guidelines for  enforcing Title VII actions. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination but the Supreme Court has ruled that it also prohibits sexual harassment.Sexual Harassment is defined by the EEOC as:

Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical actionsons of a sexual nature that occur when:

1. It was apparent that doing the act was a condition of the employment,

2. If you rejected the proposition, your boss might use that as a basis for firing, transfer or salary decisions, or

3. The conduct unreasonably interfered with your work performance or created a intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

Types 1 and 2 are known as "quid pro quo" acts and are at their core sexual bribery. 

Type 3 covers "hostile work environment" claims are are more subjective. 

So What Is the Difference Between Annoying and Illegal Conduct?

One rude remark or a lingering look at your rear is probably not going to rise to the level of actionable harassment. However if there is an ongoing steady stream of comments and actions over your objections, it becomes more likely that an EEOC complaint is in order. 

In the recent 11th Circuit Appellate Court decision of  Reeves v. C.H. Robinson, a female filed suit because she was subjected to three of sexually offensive language such as “whore, bitch, tramp and slut”.Read the original opinion and you will see that the curse words were non-stop and highly offensive including the "C' word. The male employees would often look at internet porn and sometimes played offensive radion snippets. When the case was in front of the trial court judge, the employer's lawyers were able to convince the Court to throw the case out by arguing that the comments were not directed at the employee and that was just the workplace atmosphere. 

For an example of a case where this defense worked, see Lyle v. Warner Brothers where a writer's assistant sued because the meetings were filled with nasty sexual comments about the actors sex lives, derogatory comments towards women raw foul language. At the State Supreme Court level, in a unanimous ruling, they dismissed the claims, saying the profane discussions were all part of the creative process for a show about the sex lives of young New Yorkers. Context can be critical to determining whether a pattern of behavior violates Title VII.

Fortunately for the Plaintiff in the 11th Circuit case, the Court said that in the context of this workplace, the conduct was pervasive enough to make it a jury issue. There, the employee could show that a reasonable person in that office would feel harassed. The conduct at the office was measured by the core factors relevant to decide "the severe and pervasive" determination:

• How often does it happen;
• How severe is the behavior;
• Is the conduct physically threatening or humiliating or just verbally offensive;
• Does it interfere unreasonably with the employee’s ability to do her job.

Does it Matter Who is Doing the Harassing?

Yes. Harassment by a co-worker must be reported to your boss and will probably not be actionable unless the company ignores the behavior and allows it to go on. It is much more difficult to make out a case because they are not in a position of control over you. If the harasser is your supervisor, you need to make a complaint immediately and the company's behavior from there forward will largely determine what happens to you. If there is no remedy by the company, then an EEOC complaint should be filed in Georgia.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Harassment Claims in Georgia?

Yes. You only have 180 days in Georgia from the last incident of harassment within which you must file your EEOC complaint.

These cases are very fact specific so be sure to call an Atlanta sexual harassment lawyer to discuss the facts soon after the offending acts. Under EEOC regulations, you must report the incidents so the EEOC can investigate before you have the right to sue in Federal Court.
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