Sexual Harassment Claims


I think I am being sexually harassed at work.



It happened to me: A Real Life Story



I think I am being sexually harassed at work, how do I prove it?


To prove sexual harassment, you must show that:
1. you a member of a protected class (women);
2. you were subject to unwelcome sexual harassment in the form of sexual advances or requests for sexual favors;
3. the harassment was based on sex; and
4. in the case of Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment, your submission to the unwelcome advances was an express or implied condition for receiving job benefits or your refusal to submit resulted in a tangible job detriment.


What does "Quid Pro Quo" sexual harassment look like?


This type of harassment occurs when a superior forces an employee to choose between submitting to the superior’s sexual demands or giving up an employment benefit such as promotion, raise or continued employment.


What does "Hostile Work Environment" sexual harassment look like?


This type of harassment consists of conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it affects your ability to work. Inappropriate conduct includes sexual propositions, inappropriate touching, lewd remarks, sexual innuendos, displays of pornography, sexual graffiti, and jokes.


How do I show that this harassment affected my ability to work?


Take note of how your behavior inside and outside of work has changed. As a result of this experience, many women have felt withdrawn socially and struggled with personal relationships. If you have had counseling, many courts will allow your psychologist to testify in court. You may be experiencing a lack of self-confidence at work and have physical symptoms such as panic attacks, chest pains, dizziness and migraines. You may feel like you are too scared to go to work. You are not alone – these are natural reactions.


How do I show that my employer knew what was going on?


Except for the most severe cases, you will probably need to demonstrate that you brought the matter to your employer’s attention. Make sure you’ve explored all of your available grievance options. You will need to provide copies of any emails, memos or complaints you sent to your employer. Ideally, you also have at least an informal record of its responses. Your case will be strengthened if any of your co-workers can testify to how you and your fellow female employees have been harassed.


Can I file a claim against my boss/supervisor under the MHRA?


Yes. Under Minnesota law, your supervisor can be held personally liable, which means you can potentially file a suit directly against that individual in addition to any claim against your employer. However, to pursue a suit against the individual, there must be evidence that your supervisor directly "aided and abetted" or encouraged this discriminatory behavior.


Can I bring a claim against my co-worker if he is not my boss or supervisor?


Maybe. Generally, your employer is legally responsible for the discriminatory behavior of its employee (your co-worker) as long as your employer knew or should have known that the discrimination was going on and failed to take action in a timely manner. However, if your employer has an explicit policy about objectionable behavior and how it is to be reported and you fail to do so, courts are less likely to hold the employer accountable and that might be a scenario where the coworker can be held personally liable.


I complained to my employer and it reprimanded the harasser. Can I still file a claim?


Possibly. The law demands that your employer take timely and appropriate action with respect to the harasser. If you feel your employer’s solution failed to remedy the situation, you may be able to sue.


I reported to my employer, but it didn’t do anything – can I still file a claim?


Yes. Your employer has an obligation to take appropriate and timely action. If it has failed to do so, then you have a potential claim.


What if my harasser is also a woman?


Minnesota courts recognize same-sex sexual harassment claims. The courts have rejected the notion that if you file such a claim, you would have to prove that the harassment occurred "because of sex" since this would be extremely difficult to show.


Is one incident of sexual harassment sufficient basis for a claim?


Generally, a single incident or a few isolated instances of offensive sexual behavior or remarks will not be sufficient to find that an employer violated the MHRA. However, even if the conduct is not pervasive, if the harassment has created a severely hostile environment and the employer knew or should have known and failed to stop the harassment, that could be a basis for a claim.


What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to its denials?


To establish its affirmative defense, your employer must show that (1) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior and (2) you unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by your employer or to avoid harm otherwise. You must respond by showing that you reported the harassment to your employer and it was unresponsive, or the response was inadequate.


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