Below are some facts about sexual harassment claims in Massachusetts that you may not have known. There are many other important details relating to sexual harassment claims that are not discussed in this blog. We will update future blogs with additional information regarding sexual harassment law. If you have questions about sexual harassment in Massachusetts, please contact our office (617.577.8800).
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates both Massachusetts law (General Laws, Chapter 151B and General Laws, Chapter 214, Section 1C) and federal laws (Title VII of the Civil Rights -Act of 1964).
THERE ARE 2 TYPES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE
1. “Quid pro quo” harassment
When an employee with authority or control over the terms and conditions of another employee’s work offers him/her a work benefit or advantage in exchange for sexual favors or gratification, this is quid pro quo harassment. Also, if an employee is denied a work benefit or advantage due to his or her refusal to provide sexual favors, or as a result of rejecting requests for sexual favors, this is quid pro quo sexual harassment. For example, quid pro quo harassment may exist if an employee declines to provide sexual favors to his or her boss and as a result, suffers termination; demotion; denial of a promotion; transfer; reduced or less preferential hours or scheduling; poor performance reviews; or decreased compensation.
2. A “Hostile Work Environment” claimant must show that:
he or she was subjected to conduct of a sexual nature;
the conduct of a sexual nature was unwelcome;
the conduct of a sexual nature had the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or sexually offensive work environment; and
the conduct unreasonably interfered with the claimant’s work performance or altered the terms and conditions of the claimant’s employment.
While these cases are fact specific, any of the following types of conduct can serve as the basis for a potential hostile work environment sexual harassment claim (this list is not exhaustive): inappropriate touching; sexual jokes, gossip, sexual conduct or comments; requests for sex; displaying sexually suggestive pictures and objects; and leering, whistling, or making sexual gestures. Keep in mind that other civil claims and criminal sanctions might be available remedies as well, including, but not limited to, assault and battery, interference with contractual relations, and retaliation. Therefore, a careful review of these types of cases is recommended.
NOTE: If the harasser is NOT in a supervisory role, the victim – in most cases – is expected to notify the Human Resources Department or a managerial employee of the employer, so that the employer is on notice of the misconduct and has an opportunity to take corrective action.
If the harasser is in a supervisory role, the employer is considered “strictly liable” for the conduct, whether or not the employer is aware of the sexual harassment.
NOT EVERY INAPPROPRIATE COMMENT GIVES RISE TO A SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIM
Careful consideration must be given to an analysis of whether conduct in a particular situation is sexually charged (and not just a stray remark) or sufficiently severe and pervasive at the workplace to constitute actionable sexual harassment.
A single “off color” or sexually charged action or comment may or may not be sexual harassment. In order to prove a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim, the claimant must show that the conduct was either severe or pervasive, or both. While a single instance of improper lewd touching is usually severe enough to constitute a hostile work environment claim, generally speaking—even where it is inappropriate or sexually charged—a single lewd or inappropriate comment might not constitute a hostile work environment claim. This is very fact specific, and each circumstance (including the background information) must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT MATTERS ARE NOT ALWAYS MALE HARASSER AND FEMALE VICTIM
Not all sexual harassment cases involve a male harasser and a female victim. The victim or harasser may be male or female, and same sex sexual harassment claims (female harasser and female victim, male harasser and male victim, etc.) appear to be on the rise.
AN EMPLOYER MAY BE LIABLE FOR THE ACTIONS OF THIRD PARTIES
An employer may be held liable for sexual harassment committed by non-employee third parties when the employer knew or should have known about the conduct and failed to take prompt, effective and reasonable remedial action. Generally, the greater the employer’s ability to control the non-employee’s conduct, the more likely it will be found liable for the unlawful harassment.
MOST SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIMS MUST BE FILED WITHIN 300 DAYS
Sexual harassment claims pursuant to General Laws, Chapter 151B must be filed at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and/or the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the adverse/discriminatory conduct. There are exceptions, including situations in which the conduct complained about was of a continuing nature.
If a claimant files a claim after the applicable statute of limitations, his or her claim will be forever time barred. Time is of the essence with any discrimination claim.
NOT ALWAYS EMPLOYMENT RELATED
Most sexual harassment allegations arise from an employer-employee relationship. However, sexual harassment is also prohibited in places of public accommodation,educational facilities,and housing.
We will update future blogs with additional information regarding sexual harassment law. Please do not hesitate to contact us at 617.577.8800 if you have any questions.