Sexual Harassment Claims

 

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

 

To prove "quid pro quo" sexual harassment under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), you will have to show each of the following:
(1) that you are a member of a protected group (women are a protected group);
(2) that you were subject to unwelcome sexual harassment based on your sex;
(3) that your reaction to the harassment affected tangible aspects of your compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment; and
(4) that if the harassment was committed by a co-worker, that respondeat superior liability exists, (that is, that your employer is responsible for the actions of your co-workers.)

 

To prove "hostile work environment" sexual harassment under the MHRA, you will have to show each of the following:

(1) that you are a member of a protected group (women are a protected group);
(2) that you were subject to unwelcome sexual harassment;
(3) that the harassment was based on your sex;
(4) that the harassment affected the terms, conditions, or privileges of your employment; and
(5) that your employer knew (or should have known) about the harassment and failed to take remedial action.

 

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

 

Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor behaves in a way or demands actions from an employee that forces an employee to decide between giving in to sexual demands or losing her job, losing job benefits or promotion, or otherwise suffering tangible job detriments.

 

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

 

When the workplace is infused with intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is severe or pervasive enough to create a seriously uncomfortable or abusive working environment, then a discriminatory hostile environment case may be the issue. The conduct must be severe enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile.

 

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

 

If your behavior has significantly changed, you have sought counseling, or you have been absent from work due to your uneasiness because of the harassment, you may be able to show that your ability to work was indeed affected.

 

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

 

Keep records! Note dates of harassment, specific language used, and ask other women if they are experiencing the same treatment. File a complaint through the proper channels at your work, and if none are provided, start documenting instances of harassment and go to your boss or your boss's supervisor if you feel that your harassment is severe. The more documentation and facts you have to back you up, the better your case will be.

 

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

 

Yes. The law is designed to ensure that if you are a victim of sexual harassment you can bring a claim against your employer for harassment, even when it is harassment by your boss/supervisor.

 

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

 

It depends. The MHRA only applies to employers. However, under Missouri law, an employer is liable for the sexual harassment of one co-worker by another if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and effective remedial action.

 

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

 

Maybe. If you were harassed by a supervisor, your employer is legally responsible regardless of whether the harassment was forbidden by your employer. However, you may not be able to win on a claim of sexual harassment if your employer shows both that it tried to prevent or quickly correct any harassing behavior you experienced AND that you failed to take advantage of opportunities to avoid harm which it provided to you.

 

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

 

Yes. If you told your employer about the harassment and he or she failed to take appropriate remedial action, you may have a potential claim.

 

What if my harasser is also a woman?

 

Missouri courts recognize same-sex sexual harassment claims. Further, you need not prove that your harasser is gay in order to show same-sex discrimination. Thus, you must simply prove the same thing you would need to prove if your harasser was a man.

 

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

 

One incident is rarely sufficient to sustain a claim of sexual harassment. In general, courts in Missouri have held that "in order to be actionable, sexual harassment must be 'sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.'" However, the Missouri courts have not addressed the issue of whether a single instance of quid pro quo harassment would be sufficient basis for a claim. It is likely that if they were to find one act of sexual harassment sufficient, it would have to be particularly egregious.

 

Can I get damages for emotional distress?

 

Yes. Missouri courts award damages for emotional distress. You need not show medical evidence of your emotional distress in order to recover. For instance, Missouri courts have stated that you can recover damages for humiliation, which requires no medical diagnosis.

 

What is the difference between sex discrimination and sexual harassment?

 

Sexual harassment is one kind of sex discrimination. Sex discrimination encompasses many types of discrimination including harassment, pregnancy discrimination, unequal pay claims and disparate impact.

 

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

 

Your employer may present a defense to your claim of sexual harassment if it can show both that it tried to prevent or quickly correct any harassing behavior you experienced AND that you failed to take advantage of opportunities to avoid harm which it provided to you. Ultimately, if your employer is able to establish this defense, the burden will rest with you to show that you were sexually harassed and that your employer did not respond adequately to your complaints of sexual harassment.

 

If I prove sexual harassment, what kind of remedies am I entitled to?

 

You may be entitled to injunctive relief or monetary damages. For more information, please see Remedies.

 

My employer has fewer than 6 employees -- is there anything I can do?

 

If your employer has fewer than six (6) employees you may not sue under the Missouri Human Rights Act. However, you may have other options. For more information, please see What Does the Law Say.

 

Is there a time limit for when I can file a claim with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights?

 

Yes. You must sign and file a verified complaint in writing with the Missouri State Human Rights Commission ("the Commission") within one hundred eighty (180) days of the alleged act of discrimination. For more information, please see What Does the Law Say.

 

 

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