Although having a sense of humor is generally viewed as a positive trait, sexual jokes in the workplace are inappropriate and may constitute sexual harassment. Identifying which types of sexual jokes and comments are inappropriate at work is difficult, however. While some employees may enjoy sexual joking, others may be offended, choosing to either remain silent or hoping to “get along by going along.” Nonetheless, sexual joking that creates a hostile or stressful environment may be grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we believe that everyone has a right to a work environment free of sexual harassment. While employees in New York and New Jersey are protected by local, state and federal employment laws, determining whether offensive comments and jokes rise to the level of sexual harassment are difficult. We have a proven track record of success in sexual harassment claims and know how to fight for your rights. Whether inside or outside the court, our attorneys will be the strength in your corner.
When Sexual Joking in the Workplace Creates a Hostile Work Environment
Sexual jokes in the workplace may be spoken or written or in the form of images that are sexual and offensive. While an occasional offhand comment may not constitute sexual harassment, sexual joking becomes unlawful when the comments are unwelcome and/or an individual has stated that he or she finds sexual joking offensive.
Examples of sexual jokes or comments that may be considered sexual harassment include:
- Demeaning jokes based on gender
- Derogatory comments about someones sexuality or sexual orientation
- Sexual comments about a person’s physique, appearance or clothing
- Sending sexual jokes or images through email
- Social media posts of a sexual nature
- Sexual gifts
- Sexual gestures
Some employees may think of off-color jokes as good clean fun, not realizing a coworker may be offended, while others intentionally use sexual jokes as a means of intimidating subordinates and colleagues. In any event, sexual jokes and comments may violate applicable employment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Act of 1964 (Title VII), the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
It is worth noting that workers in New York City have enhanced protections because the Human Rights Law only requires an employee to show he or she was subjected to harassment. Under the applicable state and federal laws, however a victim of sexual harassment must also show that the sexual joking was severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of his or her employment or that it created a hostile, abusive or offensive work environment.
New York City Sexual Harassment Attorneys
Our legal team is well-versed in the applicable employment laws and has a proven track record of achieving successful outcomes in sexual harassment claims, whether at the negotiating table or at trial. If you were subjected to sexual jokes in the workplace, we will conduct an extensive investigation to understand the circumstances of your claim.
- Were offensive jokes common in your workplace?
- Were the jokes directed at you personally?
- Did you complain about the offensive jokes and ask that they stop?
- What actions did your employer take or fail to take?
Once we determine that you have a viable claim, we will collect any evidence, identify and interview potential witnesses, and choose the best course of action. Regardless of the forum — litigation, arbitration or mediation, we will aggressively fight for your right to meaningful compensation.
Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to damages such as lost wages, back pay, front pay, lost bonuses, lost benefits, compensatory damages, and reinstatement. You may also obtain damages for emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded if the employer’s conduct was particularly egregious.
In light of the potential liabilities arising from sexual harassment claims, we also work with employers on establishing formal policies prohibiting workplace sexual harassment and procedures for handling complaints. When necessary, we also provide defensive capabilities to business clients seeking to refute sexual harassment claims.
Our attorneys have significant experience representing clients in administrative proceedings before the New York State Division of Human Rights, the New York City Human Rights Commission, the New Jersey Civil Rights Commission, and the EEOC. While we prefer to reach negotiated settlements, we are equally comfortable trying cases in state and federal court.
Above all, we will always put your best interests first, working to protect your rights and your livelihood. If you have been subjected to sexual jokes in the workplace or your business needs guidance on sexual harassment, we can help. Contact our office today to set up a consultation.