Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in the American workforce.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 11,090 complaints alleging sex-based harassment in 2022, including 6,201 complaints alleging harassment of a sexual nature.
Yet, the EEOC reports that up to 90% of workplace harassment goes unreported. No industry is safe from sexual harassment, including federal agencies.
The two types of sexual harassment that create liability for sex-based discrimination include “hostile work environment” and “quid pro quo” harassment.
If you are a federal employee who has experienced a form of sexual harassment in your workplace, contact the federal employment sexual harassment lawyers at Pines Federal today.
We focus exclusively on representing federal employees, so we know the special circumstances involved in suing the federal government.
Sexual Harassment Defined
Sexual harassment is a type of sex-based discrimination. The EEOC identifies “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature” as sexual harassment.
However, sexual harassment does not need to be of a sexual nature. Any harassment based on a person’s sex qualifies as sexual harassment.
Harassment may include a person subjecting another to unwanted:
- Offensive jokes,
- Insults or name-calling,
- Physical touching or assault,
- Threats of physical contact,
- Ridicule or mockery, and
- Offensive objects or pictures.
Fellow employees, supervisors, and non-employees can sexually harass others regardless of the sex or gender identity of either person. In addition, harassing a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity qualifies as sexual harassment.
Sexual Harassment in the Federal Sector
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws sex-based discrimination in employment. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) strengthened Title VII’s non-discrimination provisions for federal employees.
Under the CSRA, discriminating against a federal employee based on sex is a “prohibited personnel practice (PPP).” Although several federal offices handle PPP complaints, they will defer Title VII complaints to the EEOC.
Federal employees follow a different complaint procedure than other employees. Your office must post information about how to contact your Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office.
If you were sexually harassed, you must contact your designated EEO Counselor within 45 days after the discrimination occurred. You will usually be offered the option of EEO counseling or alternative dispute resolution.
If neither resolves your issue, you can file a formal complaint. That complaint must go through the administrative EEOC process before you can file a lawsuit.
Illegal Sexual Harassment
There are several grounds for disciplinary action due to sexual harassment.
Title VII declares that it is “an unlawful employment practice” if, because of someone’s sex, an employer:
- Fails or refuses to hire the person;
- Fires or discharges them; or
- In any other way discriminates against them in “compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”
The types of sexual harassment at work made illegal by Title VII are known as hostile work environments and quid pro quo harassment claims.
Hostile Work Environment
A work environment becomes hostile when sexual harassment becomes so “severe or pervasive” that it alters the terms or conditions of employment.
Defining this point requires two inquiries:
- Would a reasonable person find the reported conduct offensive and severe or pervasive?
- Do you find the reported conduct offensive and severe or pervasive?
The first question is sometimes phrased as asking whether the environment was objectively hostile. The second question is sometimes phrased as whether the harassing conduct was subjectively unwelcome.
There need not be any adverse employment action or tangible economic effect for an environment to become hostile. Nor do you need to prove a tangible psychological effect.
Quid Pro Quo
Literally meaning “something for something” or “this for that,” quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when someone in a supervisory position conditions an employment action on whether you accept or reject their sexual advances.
This can include offering advancement if you comply or threatening adverse employment action if you do not comply.
Quid pro quo harassment can be implicit or explicit, and it only needs to occur once to be illegal. You can file a quid pro quo claim regardless of whether you accepted or rejected the advances.
You Can Fight Back
Sexual harassment is disturbingly common, even in the federal government. If you are a federal employee who has been sexually harassed, you do not have to endure the abuse.
We understand that responses to sexual harassment are nuanced and deeply personal. Our attorneys are passionate about helping our clients fight back against discrimination.