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New York Sexual Harassment Attorneys and Resources


Sexual harassment is against the law. This includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. In addition, sexual harassment includes offensive remarks about a person’s sex.

Sexual harassment is a serious offense. Several laws protect New Yorkers from sexual harassment by employers, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), the New York City Human Rights Law (CHRL) and the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act.

Sexual harassment can also be a crime. A New York sexual harassment lawyer can help protect your rights.


Know Your Rights

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

You are entitled to a working environment free from sexual harassment. It is illegal to sexually harass people in the workplace. This includes making verbal or physical conduct a condition of employment or the basis of an employment decision.

Men can be the victims of sexual harassment.

Both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, and both men and women can harass people. It is still sexual harassment if the victim and harasser are the same sex. It is also illegal to sexually harass you because you are transgender.

If you have been sexually harassed, you are protected under federal, state, and New York City laws. A New York sexual harassment lawyer can help.

Examples of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances and sexual contact as well as the creation of a hostile workplace.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning “this for that.” In the context of sexual harassment laws, quid pro quo occurs when an employee’s boss or supervisor requires sexual favors for favorable employment decisions.

Examples:

  • A woman is up for a promotion. Her boss pulls her aside to say that he can guarantee her promotion as long as she goes on a date with him. This is an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment.
  • A male employee’s boss makes an unwelcome sexual advance. When the employee turns down his boss, she continues to make advances. After repeatedly saying no, the boss fires the employee.
  • During the interview process for a competitive job, the hiring manager tells a female candidate that she will get the position as long as she has sex with the hiring manager.

Only supervisors and managers can be guilty of quid pro quo harassment. Legally, coworkers do not have the authority to grant or withhold benefits.

Unwanted Sexual Contact

Sexual harassment can also include unwelcome physical contact. If a coworker or supervisor instigates unwelcome contact by touching or purposefully brushing up against you, it may be sexual harassment.

Examples:

  • A male coworker repeatedly tries to give his female coworker massages on the neck and shoulders. She asks him not to touch her, but he continues.
  • A vendor hired by the company touches or rubs himself sexually in front of employees of the company.
  • While working in a shared space, an employee repeatedly brushes against a coworker in a sexual manner.

Because this form of sexual harassment does not involve employment decisions, the harasser does not have to be your boss. Coworkers, vendors, and even subordinates can be guilty of unwanted sexual conduct.

Hostile Workplace

In addition to physical sexual harassment, it is also illegal to create a hostile workplace. This includes making offensive remarks about a person’s sex or engaging in verbal conduct of a sexual nature. A hostile work environment can be created by jokes, slurs, or offensive or derogatory remarks about a particular gender.

Harassment does not have to be sexual in nature. It can also include offensive remarks about a gender. For example, it is illegal to harass an employee by making offensive comments about women in general.

It is not sexual harassment if your boss is mean to you by yelling or being rude. There is no law against just having a “bad boss.” However, if the boss’s rudeness is sexual in nature or he or she singles out a particular gender for abuse, that could qualify as sexual harassment.

Hostile Conduct Must Be Unwelcome

Under federal and state law, the conduct must be pervasive or severe to cause a hostile workplace. However, New York City has a lower standard for a hostile work environment. In New York City, being treated less well than others, in a manner that is more than a “petty slight” or “trivial inconvenience,” qualifies as a hostile work environment.

It is important to speak up when you witness offensive conduct to make it clear that these comments are unacceptable and unwelcome.

Victims Do Not Have To Be The Targets

It is not true that hostile comments only harm their target. You can be a victim even if you are not the target of the offensive behavior. The law protects you even if you are not a member of the targeted gender.

If the offensive behavior is affecting your ability to do your job, you may have a claim.

The Offender Does Not Have To Be Your Boss

It is not true that only your boss can create a hostile work environment. Employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment. A coworker, a supervisor in another area of the company, or even a non-employee, like a vendor, can be the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment Can Be A Crime

Sexual harassment does not only violate equal employment opportunity laws, it can also be a criminal offense. The New York Penal Code applies if sexual harassment involves the following elements:

  • Forcible Touching: Forcible touching means when someone intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly touches your intimate parts for the purpose of degrading you.
  • Criminal Sexual Act: A criminal sexual act occurs when someone engages in oral or anal sexual conduct with you without your consent. This can be a felony.
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse is an attack that subjects you to sexual contact without your consent. This can be a felony.
  • Persistent Sexual Abuse: Multiple acts of sexual abuse qualify as persistent sexual abuse. This can be a felony.

What To Do If You Are The Victim of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can happen in any workplace. If you are the victim of sexual harassment, there are several steps you can take right away. Contacting a New York sexual harassment lawyer can help.

  • Start keeping notes of the harassing conduct. Be specific in your details. Write down the time and place of each incident, what was said and done, and who witnessed the actions.
  • Keep doing a good job. Make copies of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you are doing a good job at work.
  • Seek support from friends, family, or professionals. Harassment is stressful and can make you feel isolated and alone.
  • Make it clear that the conduct is unwelcome, and make sure you can prove that you did. Contact your supervisor or human resources department, and put your complaints in writing.
  • Check your company’s employee handbook. If your employer has a sexual harassment policy in place, follow it.
  • Put all of your complaints in writing, and keep copies at home.

Retaliation

If you complain about sexual harassment, it is illegal for your employer to take any action against you.

It is illegal for employers to retaliate against applicants or employees who complain about discrimination against themselves or others. This includes filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or any state or city agency. Employers also cannot retaliate against employees who participate in an employment discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation or lawsuit. This includes acting as a witness.

You Are Protected From Retaliation Even If There Was No Harassment

As long as you had a good faith and reasonable belief that sexual harassment occurred, your employer cannot take any action against you for speaking out or participating in any investigation or proceeding. It does not matter if an agency or court determines that there was no discrimination.

If you speak out about harassment in your workplace, the law protects you from retaliation.

How to File a Claim For Sexual Harassment

If you choose to file a claim for sexual harassment, you have several options. For example, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which handles violations of federal law. In addition, the New York State Division of Human Rights handles NYSHRL violations, and the New York City Commission on Human Rights investigates CHRL violations.

If your claim falls under multiple laws, the three agencies that handle discrimination claims have what is called a “work-sharing agreement.” This means they cooperate with each other to process your claims. There is no need to file a claim with each agency. You just need to indicate that you want your claim “cross-filed” with the other agencies.

For specific information on how to file a claim with the EEOC, the New York State Division of Human Rights, or the New York City Commission on Human Rights, read our page on How To File A Claim.

Comparing Sexual Harassment Laws

Title VII NYSHRL CHRL
Covers United States Covers New York state Covers New York City
Applies to companies with more than 15 employees, including employment agencies, unions, and federal, state, and local governments, but not independent contractors or domestic workers. Applies to companies with more than 4 employees, including state and local governments and domestic workers. Applies to companies with at least one employee, including municipal employers and unpaid interns, as well as independent contractors under certain conditions.
Must first file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the incident.

However, if the charge is also covered by state or city laws, the filing deadline is extended to 300 days.

You cannot file a Title VII claim in federal court without first filing with the EEOC.

Have a choice between filing your NYSHRL claim in state court or with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

If you decide to file a claim with the agency, you must do so within one year of the incident, or within 240 days, if your claim includes a Title VII claim.

You have 3 years from the date of the incident to file your claim in state court.

Have a choice between filing your CHRL claim in state court or with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

If you decide to file a claim with the agency, you must do so within one year of the incident, or within 240 days, if your claim includes a Title VII claim. However, beginning in April 2019, you will have up to 3 years from the date of the incident to file a claim with the agency.

You have 3 years from the date of the incident to file your claim in state court.

Reprimands and negative performance evaluations only covered if accompanied by a reduction in pay or demotion. Reprimands and negative performance evaluations only covered if accompanied by a reduction in pay or demotion. Performance evaluations and discipline decisions are covered by the law, even without reduction in pay or demotion.
Hostile work environment requires severe and pervasive harassment. Hostile work environment requires severe and pervasive harassment. The standard for harassment is lower. It is defined as more than a “petty slight” or “trivial inconvenience.”

Legal Remedies for Sexual Harassment

Victims of sexual harassment can recover damages, back pay, and fines from their employer. A New York sexual harassment lawyer can help protect your rights.

  • Back Pay: The courts can award back pay equal to what you would have earned without the discrimination. This includes wages, bonuses, benefits, and more.
  • Reinstatement: If you were fired or denied a promotion, the courts can order your employer to give you back your job or give you a promotion.
  • Front Pay: The courts can award front pay to compensate for lost wages and benefits due to discrimination. The amount depends on the court’s determination of how long it will take for you to return to the same level of pay you had before the discrimination.
  • Compensatory Damages: These damages “compensate” you for any out-of-pocket expenses caused by the discrimination. This includes the cost of therapy, lost wages, or the cost of searching for a new job. It can also include emotional pain and suffering.
  • Punitive Damages: These damages punish the employer for their role in the discrimination. Under New York City law, employers who show negligence, recklessness, or a conscious disregard of your rights may have to pay punitive damages.
  • Liquidated Damages: Under certain laws, victims of discrimination also qualify for liquidated damages equal to the amount of back pay owed.
  • Attorneys’ Fees and Costs: If you win, your employer must pay your attorney for their work on your case. This includes expert witness fees and court costs.

Potential Damages Under Different Sexual Harassment Laws

Title VII NYSHRL CHRL
Compensatory Damages Yes

15-100 employees: up to $50,000

101-200 employees: up to $100,000

201-500 employees: up to $200,000

more than 500 employees: up to $300,000

Yes

Unlimited

Yes

Unlimited

Punitive Damages Yes

15-100 employees: up to $50,000

101-200 employees: up to $100,000

201-500 employees: up to $200,000

more than 500 employees: up to $300,000

You cannot receive punitive damages if you are suing a government employer (federal, state or city).

No  

Yes

Unlimited

Back Pay Yes

Determined by the court.

Yes

Determined by the jury.

Yes

Determined by the jury.

Reinstatement Yes Yes Yes
Front Pay Yes

Determined by the court.

Yes

Determined by the jury.

Yes

Determined by the jury.

Attorneys Fees Yes No Yes
Can You Bring Suit Against An Individual Supervisor No Yes Yes
Prejudgment Interest Yes Yes Yes
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