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Category Archives: Sexual Harassment

What is Sexual Orientation Harassment?

By | Employment Law, Sexual Harassment | No Comments

Despite the recent legal changes that recognizes same-sex marriages, people can still be fired in Kentucky for being gay. And if they are harassed at work for being gay (it’s called sexual orientation harassment, there’s nothing that can legally be done.

According to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, the only categories that are protected are those of age, gender, race, disability, nation of origin, religion, and sexual harassment.

Stressed - Mike HoffLet’s say an employer pulls an employee from his or her workstation, announces their sexual orientation, and then fires that employee for being gay. An employee may be able to file a suit for infliction of emotional distress, but as the law stands, the firing is legal.

However, we’re beginning to see more cases that can cross over into sexual harassment complaints. Sexual harassment lawsuits can be filed regardless of the genders involved. The Supreme Court Case, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, said male-on-male sexual harassment is just as illegal as any other form of sexual harassment. In Oncale, the plaintiff was a male who said his male coworkers often harassed and abused him, which the Supreme Court decided was clearly sexual harassment. The case is often used as support for sexual orientation harassment cases.

Will Sexual Orientation Harassment Eventually Become Illegal?

Yes, I believe it will become illegal. While it may not be illegal currently, the social landscape is changing dramatically. We’ve already seen same-sex marriage bans ruled illegal in several states, including Kentucky. And there have been federal bills that have been drafted that make sexual orientation harassment illegal, although that doesn’t make it a law. However, I think we’ll see it become the eighth protected category in the workplace.

Is Sexual Orientation Harassment Still Worth Talking to a Lawyer About?

Absolutely. While someone who is being harassed at work may not be able to sue because of his or her orientation, if there are certain words spoken about or to that person, or certain actions that take place, he or she may be able to file for sexual harassment. If co-workers or supervisors have used certain language or taken certain actions, there’s a better chance of having some sort of legal recourse. If you’re not sure, it’s always better to call an attorney and find out for sure.

If you’re experiencing sexual harassment or sexual orientation harassment at work, and feel a legal response is your only option, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100 to see what you can do.

Photo credit: Mike Hoff (Flickr, Creative Commons)

What Constitutes Workplace Harassment?

By | Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Workplace Harassment | No Comments

The question of workplace harassment is a question I often hear. It’s also one of the most difficult to answer. It’s not a question of knowing or not knowing what it is. Rather, the meaning of the word is different from its legal definition.

Oftentimes, when I get a call about workplace harassment, the person will say that he or she is harassed on a daily basis at work, which is causing them extreme emotional distress. The caller can’t take it anymore. She wants to quit, but needs the job. She feels like she’s stuck, and doesn’t know where else to go.

Big OfficeI ask the caller to discuss the situation and tell me about their work situation. She — or sometimes he — will tell me about how the job is unbearable, her boss is insane, and a complete nightmare to work with! The boss screams and yells at my caller, calling her stupid, or otherwise insulting her. She is asked to work weekends and is contacted at all hours to take care of some situation or other.

Though this situation may be harassment, it is also — sadly — completely legal. An employer is allowed to yell and cuss at you. They can be rude and insensitive. It is only considered illegal harassment if the harassment is related to age, race, gender, disability, national origin, religion or sexual harassment. Basically, if they call you names or make inappropriate jokes about one of those issues, it’s illegal. If they’re just mean and insensitive, it’s not.

Years ago, when I was younger, I worked at a law firm where many lawyers would regularly yell and scream at the secretaries. The secretaries were constantly crying, and we had a lot of turnover within their ranks. Every week brought a new face because they would quit due to the poor treatment. Needless to say, I don’t work at that law firm anymore.

It comes down to this: having a jerk for a boss is not illegal. He or she can be rude, and it’s not against the law. But if their harassment becomes an issue of age, race, gender, disability, national origin, religion, or sexual harassment — the “Big 7″ — then it is illegal, and you have grounds for a workplace harassment lawsuit.

If you’re experiencing workplace harassment at your job, and feel a legal response is your only option, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Can I Sue If My Apartment Landlord or Maintenance Worker is Sexually Harassing Me?

By | Employment Law, Sexual Harassment | No Comments

While not strictly an employment law question, we have been asked whether a tenant can sue his or her landlord for sexual harassment.

Apartment ComplexThe law is very specific in regards to who can sue who for what, at least when it comes to workplace harassment. As we’ve discussed, contractors are not legally given the same kind of protection as regular employees. They are not allowed to sue an employer for sexual harassment, even if they’re harassed by an employee or a manager. The issue is because the contractor does not actually work for the employer.

Private citizens face these same issue as well, even when interacting with an employee at a workplace. For example, even if a car salesperson harasses a customer, the customer has no legal recourse.

And if an apartment landlord or maintenance person harasses a tenant, the tenant has no real recourse either.

That’s because a landlord-tenant relationship falls under the same issues as contractors and private citizens. While the tenant and landlord or apartment management company have a business relationship, they don’t have an employer/employee relationship. This holds true for all employees of the apartment building or complex, such as maintenance workers or groundskeepers.

However, if a tenant was late with his or her rent and the apartment manager offered free rent in exchange for sexual favors, that’s actually illegal. It’s considered solicitation or prostitution. It still wouldn’t be considered sexual harassment, but there are grounds for other legal pursuits.

Only certain relationships are covered under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. And even then, there may be certain criteria that must be met. Contractor-Employer, Private Citizen-Employee, and Landlord-Tenant relationships are not protected under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. If you experience harassment under any of those kinds of relationships, there’s nothing that can be done legally.

(That doesn’t stop you from telling your friends and family about it though.)

If you have experienced workplace harassment of any other kind, or believe you are being sexually harassed by a co-worker or boss, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

 

Photo credit: Greg Goebel (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Can a Private Citizen Sue If They’re Sexually Harassed by Company Employees?

By | Sexual Harassment | No Comments

Sexual harassment of an employee by an employer or co-worker is illegal, and the subject of many employment lawsuits. But what if you are sexually harassed at a company you do not work for? Even if you’re a customer and you’re openly harassed by an employee of the company, you cannot file a sexual harassment lawsuit. You can, however, call the corporate office to make a complaint and refuse to do business with them again.

Catcalling by Construction WorkerThis private citizen issue is similar to the idea that contractors are not subject to the same protection as regular employees.

A common example is when a customer walks into a car dealership. The car salesperson may try to hit on and sexually harass the customer, and he or she can complain. However, there are no laws that protect the customer in that scenario. Unless the car salesperson actually touches the customer, there is nothing the customer can legally do.

Sexual harassment is strictly a workplace or employment issue. A private citizen could sexually harass another private citizen but there are no legal complaints that can be made. This is something that happens regularly at bars. One patron hits on another, and is rather bad at it, or unwilling to take the hint (or outright rejection), and continues to bother the other patron. It’s annoying, and possibly even frightening, but it’s not against the law.

If there was any kind of physical assault, battery charges could be brought against the person who committed the assault, but nothing else can be done.

Basically, if you are harassed by an employee of a company you do business with, your best bet is to tell friends about it, so they can avoid doing business with that company as well.

If you have questions about sexual harassment, or believe you are being sexually harassed by a co-worker or boss, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

 

Photo credit: Michael (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Are Contractors Entitled to the Same Protections and Benefits as Full-Time Employees?

By | Employment Law, Sexual Harassment | No Comments

Despite working for an employer for 40+ hours a week, contract employees are not entitled to the same protections and benefits as full-time employees.

I recently worked on a case where we represented a woman who had been sexually harassed by a co-worker. We sued the company for sexual harassment, and they responded that she was not an employee, but an independent contractor. They produced documentation proving the independent contractor agreement between my client and the company.

It said that as an independent contractor, the company would not do tax withholdings on wages, would not provide employee benefits, and would not cover workers comp.

Why was this documentation so important to this case?

You may not be able to tell them apart by looking, but there's a big difference between contractors and full-time employees.

You may not be able to tell them apart by looking, but there’s a big difference between contractors and full-time employees.

There are three groups of employers who are protected in regards to sexual harassment, or certain accommodations such as disability status and religious affiliation.

  • Full-time employees;
  • Part-time employees;
  • Temporary employees hired via a temp agency.

However, independent contractors are not protected in the same way because they are not employed by the company. There is a difference between working with a company and for for a company. It’s a subtle, but important, difference.

Sometimes it is can be contested whether an independent contractor worked as a true independent contractor or was treated as an employee. The Department of Labor has devised a test called the White Collar Test that looks at eight or ten factors of a person’s employment. It looks at how an employer controls the manner and methodology of work, such as does an employer require a company uniform, or do they set a required schedule the employee must follow? An independent contractor does not have to do these things, and can work wherever and whenever they want.

Unfortunately, my client was determined to be an independent contractor, and therefore not entitled to the same sexual harassment protections as if she had even been a temporary employee. The person accused of sexual harassment was given a slap on the wrist at work, and nothing else.

An interesting side note to this issue: while a contractor cannot sue if an employee harasses him or her, the reverse is not true. If an employee at a company is being harassed by the company’s independent contractor, and management does nothing about it when told about the problem, that employee has a right to sue.

For example, if the guy who fills the vending machines continually makes inappropriate remarks to the receptionist, and she tells her boss, who fails to respond, she can sue the employer. That’s because the contractor is contributing to a hostile work environment, which the employer is supposed to prevent.

If you have questions about sexual harassment, or believe you are being sexually harassed by a co-worker or boss, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse (Flickr, Creative Commons)