Workplace Sexual Harassment – Be Careful!

By Jane Mundy

Sacramento, CA: Sexual harassment casts a wide net of damage in the workplace. It can cause psychological and physical damage, and it can create a hostile workplace—all of which are violations of the California Labor Law.

Mary dealt with sexual harassment from her boss for the past two years. About four months ago she couldn’t take it anymore so she called the California labor board to inquire about filing a California labor lawsuit against her employer. That call prompted her to quit her job and hire an attorney.

“On my third day of work, the owner of the company started to hit on me,” says Mary (not her real name). “He started harassing me by making comments like ‘You’re looking really hot today,’ or ‘There’s something wild about you,’ and he would just leer at me.

“That was bad enough and I just put up with it, fearing that I might lose my job if I told him to stop making lewd comments. Then he told me that my customers (I was in sales and worked on commission) wanted me sexually and I was only making sales because of that. It got to the point where I was afraid to bring customers to the office or even talk to customers because I felt too dumb to get a sale on my own. Either way he was putting me down. And as you can imagine, my self-esteem was virtually non-existent.”

Mary adds that on several occasions he harassed her in front of co-workers. While that in itself is demeaning, it can likely work in Mary’s favor—a dispatcher and office manager have promised to testify in court. And according to Mary, her office manager was sexually harassed.

Mary adds that she was also discriminated against. She was the first salesperson to be hired, but during her two years of employment, several men were hired, all of whom received a higher base salary and more commissions than Mary.

“I didn’t find out that I was discriminated against for a long time but I had my suspicions,” Mary explains. “One guy told me, when he was first hired, that he couldn’t afford health insurance for his family, but several months later he showed me a diamond ring that he bought for his wife. It was hurtful, to say the least, especially because I was the only salesperson meeting the quotas but getting less commission.”

After Mary phoned the California labor board and decided to seek help from a California labor law attorney, she wrote a resignation letter. “This guy harassed me for too long and I don’t want to be a victim anymore,” she says. “After I quit, it felt like I just got out of prison. But my self-esteem is still non-existent and I have anxiety attacks.”

Given the fact that Mary put up with sexual harassment for two years, her health problems could be a lot worse. And all too often, symptoms of sexual harassment are unrecognized. Last month myhealthnewsdaily listed these six side effects of sexual harassment (of course there are many more):

• Depression
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Elevated blood pressure
• Sleep problems
• Neck pain
• Suicide

According to Amy Blackstone, a sociologist at the University of Maine, about 70 percent of women and 45 percent of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Not only are they working in a hostile environment, they are also at risk for physical and psychological health problems, and sometimes they can cause irreparable damage.

Some people may ask why Mary stayed at her job for two years, or why she didn’t confront the owner. Like so many in her situation, she was afraid of losing her job.

“You make the best of the situation and take it, what else can you do?” she says. “I was afraid, especially in these economic times, but this guy should be accountable and he has to stop. And it isn’t just me that he targeted; now that I have a lawyer we are considering a class-action suit against him.”

As for the discrimination issue, Mary says she doesn’t know how to figure out the monetary damages. “Who knows how much he was paying these guys, how much would I have made if I had the same opportunities as they had?” Mary’s labor law attorney can help.

Under federal law, the EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” That definition also applies under California law.

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