Harassment in the workplace comes in many forms. Not all types of harassment, however, are the basis for a legal claim. For example, petty slights by co-workers, annoyances at work, and isolated incidents (unless severe), do not give the basis for a legal claim. In order to proceed with a legal claim for a “hostile work environment,” the employee must prove several elements.

The United States Supreme Court has established these elements necessary for a claimant to prevail on a claim for hostile work environment sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

1) The employee was a member of a protected class or group (as listed above);

2) The employee was subjected to unwelcomed behavior;

3) This behavior was “because of . . . sex”;

4) The harassing conduct was “sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment’”; and

5) The employer should bear responsibility for the harassing conduct.

As stated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

This type of employment discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

Offensive conduct can occur in a variety of situations, such as where the harasser is the victim’s supervisor, a co-worker, a supervisor in another department, etc. The victim need not even be the person harassed, but someone who was affected by the offensive conduct.

If you feel you’ve been the victim of harassment in the workplace, feel free to contact our office for a free, confidential consultation.

Michael Raff, Esq.