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Neal Jacobs

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace / “Hostile Work” Environment

Despite efforts to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace this type of illegal behavior continues to create obstacles to employee success. It is unacceptable and illegal.  

sexual harassmentSexual advances, verbal harassment containing a sexual content, or physical conduct of a sexual nature may constitute sexual harassment.  Court’s generally require that an employee provide notice of the objectionable behavior; however, where the harasser is a manager or supervisor the claim may be actionable without notice. Sexual harassment does not require that the victim be of the opposite sex, however; the harasser's conduct must be unwelcome!

Courts recognize two types of workplace sexual harassment as constituting discrimination on the basis of sex:

  1. Harassment where the supervisor requests sexual favors in exchange for job benefits and
  2. "Hostile work environment" harassment, in which a pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment creates an objectively hostile work environment. Rabidue v. Osceola Refining Co., 805 F.2d 611, 618-19 (6th Cir. 1986).

The United States Supreme Court has held that a hostile work environment occurs when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment. In other words, the conduct must be (1) sufficiently severe or pervasive to create an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, and (2) the victim must subjectively regard that environment as having been abusive. Isolated incidents, unless extremely serious, will not amount to discriminatory changes in the terms or conditions of employment.

  1. Appropriate factors for the court to consider when determining whether conduct is severe or pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment include:the frequency of the discriminatory conduct;
  2. the severity of the discriminatory conduct;
  3. whether the discriminatory conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance;
  4. whether the discriminatory conduct interferes with an employee's work performance; and
  5. whether the plaintiff actually found the environment abusive.

A single incident generally does not rise to the level of illegal harassment. Sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims raise a number of issues that require the employment of an experienced employment lawyer. If you believe that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, or have been subjected to a hostile work environment you should call qualified counsel.


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