Sexual harassment in the workplace violates state and federal employee protection laws. If you have suffered from discrimination or subjected to a hostile work environment based in sexual harassment, our Minnesota sexual harassment attorneys can work for you to protect your rights and help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Victims of sexual harassment will not always want to come forward in fear of retaliation in the workplace. Many employees feel they will be judged or not be believed if they did report sexual harassment. The lawyers of Wanta Thome PLC understand the challenges victims of sexual harassment face in the workplace and have assisted countless men and women workers in protecting their rights and seeking justice. We are here to listen and talk through options. Sexual harassment is harmful, unjust, and illegal. One person at a time, we are here to assist in protecting your rights and holding employers accountable to prevent future discrimination and harassment.
Is sexual harassment common?
Sexual harassment continues to be a pervasive problem for employees and for their employers. Between 2018 and 2021, the EEOC reported nearly 30% of charges filed with the agency were based in sexual harassment. Women filed 78.2% of the sexual harassment charges in that same time. In Minnesota, more than a quarter of all charges filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights asserted claims of sex-based harassment or discrimination. Despite these sobering statistics, Minnesota employees have rights under both state and federal laws that protect them from unlawful workplace sexual harassment. Along with significant increases in sexual harassment and sex discrimination claims since the #Metoo movement beginning in 2017, retaliation in violation of victim’s rights have increased significantly as well. Reports of sexual harassment and retaliation are often linked together with termination of employment or other adverse changes to employment as the retaliatory event that follows reports or charges filed with an agency.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment of an employee includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be based on a sexual desire or be sexual in nature to constitute sexual harassment. The harassment can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex in general, actions or words that invade the privacy of a person’s body or words or actions that make an employee feel uncomfortable. Sexual harassment can include just words and/or just physical touching/assault.
What are examples of sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment in the workplace can come in many forms. Common examples include:
- Sexual comments about a person’s clothing, behavior or body
- Communication of a sexual nature, including sexual or sex-based jokes
- Requests for sexual favors
- Repeatedly asking a person out
- Unwanted touching (kissing, hugging, patting, pinching, shoulder rubs, stroking)
- Unwanted stares, derogatory or sexual gestures or facial expressions
- Posters, photographs, drawings, screensavers or emails of a sexual nature
Types of sexual harassment cases
There are two common ways an employee experiences sexual harassment. The first is when an employee is subjected to a hostile work environment. The second is referred to as quid pro quo.
What is hostile work environment?
Do you feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable about going to work? Are you fearful of sexual remarks, propositions, commentary, or other unwanted attention?
When hostility based in sex is so severe or pervasive that it adversely affects a person or group’s ability to perform their job, this constitutes a hostile work environment. In determining what degree of hostility rises to the level of an actionable hostile environment claim, the law asks whether a reasonable person, in the same or similar circumstances would find the conduct offensive. The analysis of “what is bad enough” is sometimes difficult to navigate. Wanta Thome PLC attorneys will listen to the circumstances and the context in which they occurred. We can guide workers toward protection of their rights.
What is quid pro quo in a sexual harassment case?
Has an employer (through an executive, manager, director, supervisor) offered you a promotion in exchange for sexual favors? Have you been threatened with a demotion or termination for failure to comply with a manager’s sexual advances? If so, this is termed quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo exists when an employee whose submission to, or rejection of, sexual harassment is a factor the employer considers when making decisions that affects the employee (i.e. termination, performance warnings, not receiving a promotion, getting a raise, being placed on a performance improvement plan).
Who is legally protected in Minnesota?
All employees are protected against sexual harassment. This applies to all employees no matter their gender identity: including agender, men, women nonbinary, gender non-conforming, gender questioning, gender fluid, cisgender, binary, bigender, transgender and gender fluid employees. Even if you weren’t hired for a position but you were harassed as an applicant, you are entitled to legal protections. Harassment may involve a co-worker, supervisor or a member of management. It doesn’t matter if the offender is of the opposite gender. If you were harassed by a client or customer and your employer failed to take proper action, you may also be entitled to compensation and other remedies.
Supervisor v. co-worker sexual harassment
Our attorneys are at the cutting edge of sexual harassment law and employee rights advocacy in Minnesota. As a result of our work, it is now easier for employees to bring actions against their employers in the event of supervisor harassment.
After many years of conflicting court opinions, in 2008, the Minnesota Supreme Court adopted the federal liability standard for cases involving sexual harassment by a supervisor. Frances Baillon and Joni Thome of Wanta Thome PLC represented the employee in Frieler v. Carlson Marketing Group, 751 N.W.2d 558 (Minn. 2008), in which the Court held that, under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, an employer may be vicariously liable for the sex-based harassment and hostile work environment created by the supervisor. Prior to Frieler, it was more difficult for an employee to show the employer was liable for the supervisor harassment.
The Court in Frieler also adopted a more expansive definition regarding who constitutes a “supervisor” to include individuals who have authority to undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee or individuals who have authority to direct the employees daily work activities.
While Frieler provided needed clarity regarding the Minnesota standard, there remain other issues to determine in each case of supervisor sexual harassment. For instance, an issue requiring legal analysis is whether there has been “tangible employment action.” What does that mean? A tangible employment action is “a significant change in employment status.” Examples include: hiring and firing, promotion and failure to promote, demotion, undesirable reassignment, a significant change in benefits, decreased compensation, and a change in work assignment.
Contact Our Sexual Harassment Lawyers
If you are experiencing sexually harassing behavior in your workplace, have already reported harassment and are now experiencing retaliation as a result, or are unsure whether the treatment you are enduring constitutes harassment, contact one of our sexual harassment lawyers to discuss your rights. The attorneys at Wanta Thome PLC have represented countless employees who have endured harassment in the workplace and have significant experience litigating and resolving sexual harassment cases. Contact us for a free initial consultation.