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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

NJ Professional Women Sexually Harassed by Supervisors at Work

Sexual harassment at work continues to be a problem because it is largely not reported. New Jersey Courts and the US Supreme Court have therefore made it an initially lighter threshold burden to prove a retaliation claim for reporting the sexual harassment than an underlying sex discrimination claim.

There is a myth that sexual harassment in the workplace occurs primarily in blue collar jobs but statistics and a study by a NYC based foundation found that of women in white collar jobs, more than one in three professional career women have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace. Perhaps less surprisingly, of those women in white collar jobs who have been sexually harassed, 72 percent were harassed by supervisors or other employees who were senior to them in position. While illegal sexual harassment at work may be perpetrated by co-workers as well, the prevalence of sexual harassment by supervisors or other senior workers who have the authority to promote, demote, even fire the victim, may be due to the fact the victims are afraid to come forward to report the harassment,  when the harasser has the power to retaliate in terms of conditions of and remuneration for employment.

When sexual misconduct goes unreported, it continues unchecked. If the victim does complain about the misconduct and experiences an adverse effect on their employment, such as demotion, an undesired transfer, or less desirable job duties, the word gets around to other employees. This has a chilling effect on other employees who might otherwise come forward to report harassment.

Courts have recognized that when retaliation by the supervisor against the victim for her/his reporting the supervisor’s misconduct occurs, it creates an adverse impact on other employees as well as the original victim. It is injurious to the working environment culture as a whole when the sexual misconduct continues unabated and unchecked. The United States Supreme Court and New Jersey Courts have therefore made it a lighter initial threshold burden to prove a retaliation claim than is required for an underlying sex discrimination claim. To prevail in a retaliation claim, what is considered to be a sufficiently adverse “adverse action” against the employee need not be as severe an “adverse action” as the level of severity required in an underlying discrimination claim. The goal of underlying discrimination statutes is different than that of their anti-retaliation provisions. A demotion, loss of pay, restriction of hours, or termination is not necessary to qualify as an “adverse action” against the employee for a plaintiff to meet the required threshold level of “adversity” for essential retaliation elements. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Burlington, the Court considers the totality of the circumstances, the “entire constellation of circumstances” to determine if the action taken against  employee was such that it might influence other employees’ behavior in a manner that would cause them to hesitate to come forward with their own complaints of misconduct. This negative impact on the workplace, the discouraging and deterring effect on other employees, is the crux of what the retaliation provisions in discrimination statutes seek to eradicate.

Sexual harassment is extremely difficult to endure and no worker should have to suffer it in the workplace.

What You Can Do

If you believe you may be the target of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is important to consult with an aggressive and experienced employment attorney. If you complained about such harassment and your employer then retaliated against you, you may also have a claim for retaliation. If you believe you are being subjected to such unlawful workplace sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation, please contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout New Jersey, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Southern, Central, and Northern NJ to meet with clients.


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