#MeToo Movement Sheds Light on Workplace Sexual Harassment

By Douglas Lipsky

What actions constitute sexual harassment?

The #MeToo movement has gone viral, prompting people everywhere to publicly disclose instances of sexual harassment, especially in the workplace. The movement was born shortly after allegations of sexual harassment were brought against Harvey Weinstein. The purpose of the #MeToo movement was to empower women. Now millions of women and some men too have stepped forward to reveal themselves as victims of sexual harassment. In a greater sense, the movement is calling to public attention the true prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes sexual harassment unlawful. Title VII applies to all employers within the United States that have 15 or more employees. Some states additionally have separate laws on the books to protect employees. Under federal law, there are two main kinds of sexual harassment claims:

  • Quid Pro Quo: Quid pro quo harassment happens when a supervisor or another individual in authority requests sexual favors or a sexual relationship in return for favors, such as a raise, or to avoid punishment, such as to prevent firing.
  • Hostile Work Environment: A hostile work environment claim arises when inappropriate behavior that is pervasive within the workplace creates an offensive work environment. Examples of inappropriate behavior that could give rise to this type of claim include sexual jokes, threats, or sexual images.

Sexual harassment is not always easy to identify. Further, as the #MeToo movement exemplifies, many women or men who are the victims of sexual harassment are afraid to step forward. Any employee who feels they are being harassed should consult with a sexual harassment attorney right away. Employees who have been the victim of sexual harassment may have a viable claim against their employer.

In analyzing a sexual harassment claim, courts will look to evidence of the quid pro quo harassment. The more documentation you have, the stronger your case. For hostile work environment cases, the courts will consider how frequently the inappropriate behavior occurred, the severity of the behavior, the nature of the employer’s business, and more. Contact a sexual harassment attorney to find out more about your legal rights.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.