Employment Law Blog

What is Sexual Harassment?

9/28/2016 by Joseph M. Hekmat


Both United States federal as well as California state law prohibit sexual harassment in a variety of different contexts.  However, these laws are often misunderstood by many California residents and the experienced employee rights lawyers of the Hekmat Law Group wanted to take this opportunity to provide those residents with more information regarding the prohibited behaviors covered by federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace.

Prohibited Sexual Harassment under Federal Law

Federal law protects United States citizens from sexual harassment in the workplace pursuant to Title VII (Title VII) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VII forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.  Pursuant to Title VII, prohibited sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.  Harassment prohibited under Title VII also can include offensive remarks about the victim’s sex.  Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of Title VII is that the harasser can be same sex as the victim of harassment, i.e. a man can sexually harass another in violation of Title VII.   Title VII is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent federal agency.

Prohibited Sexual Harassment under California Law

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the main law protecting California employees against sexual harassment.  FEHA prohibits harassment and discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression and a whole host of other protected characteristics.

The harassment is unlawful if the employer “or its agents or supervisors, knows or should have known of” the harassing conduct and fails to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action.” Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(j). Examples of behavior prohibited by FEHA include the same types of behaviors as prohibited by Title VII and also include visual conduct like leering or making sexual gestures, physical conduct like touching, impeding or blocking movement, or any physical interference with normal work or movement, or verbal abuse of a sexual nature like comments about an individual’s body.  Like prohibited harassment under Title VII, prohibited discrimination under the FEHA does not have to come from the opposite sex; in fact, in California, the harassing conduct does not even need to be motivated by sexual desire.

Generally there are “two distinct categories of sexual harassment claims: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.” Fisher v. San Pedro Peninsula Hospital (1989) 214 Cal. App. 3d 590, 607.  Quid pro quo harassment occurs when submission to sexual conduct is made a condition of….employment benefits. Id.  The harassment must occur by the supervisor (person with higher authority over employee) while the supervisor is acting as an agent of the employer. State Dept. of Health Services v. Superior Court (2003) 31 Cal. 4th 1026, 1041.  Hostile work environmental occurs when the sexual harassment creates a hostile or abusive work environment regardless of whether the individual suffers tangible or economic loss.

FEHA is enforced by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Contact Hekmat Law Group if You Have Been Subjected to Sexual Harassment

Many California employees are subjected to sexual harassment at their workplaces on a daily basis in violation of either Title VII, FEHA or both statutes.  The Hekmat Law Group represents California residents who have been sexually harassed in violation of California and/or federal law.  If you have experienced sexual harassment in violation of either federal or California state law in the workplace, please contact the experienced and aggressive employee rights attorneys of the Hekmat Law Group at 424-888-4LAW to discuss your potential legal options today.