Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Sexual Harassment

If you have been subject to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other conduct of a sexual nature while at work, you may have a claim for sexual harassment against your employer.  Some of the common situations I see as a plaintiff’s attorney are: inappropriate touching, flirting that becomes vulgar, invitations to have sex or oral sex, invitations to a vacation home or other location outside of work, or male workers “flashing” female workers. Touching doesn’t have to occur to be harassment.

Sexual harassment can be from a co-worker, supervisor, manager, a manager of another department, an independent contractor or even non-employees who are in the office. You can bring a claim without showing medical treatment or financial damage.

What to do first?
Tell the person that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Then, report it to your employer and/or your union, if you’re a union member.  Go through the company or union’s grievance process. To bring an effective lawsuit, you have to report the harassment first and give the company a chance to fix the situation.

At the same time, get written and signed statements from as many people as you can who can confirm your story.  It doesn’t have to be notarized at this stage, but what we need is for your friends and supporters to put their own testimony in writing.  Many people whom you thought would support you (because they told you they would help) get “cold feet” and avoid participation in the process once the employer threatens their own job.  Or, they change their own version against you.  I’ve seen this happen.  Avoid it by getting everything you can in writing from your co-workers and friends as early as possible.  That way, if witnesses change their story later or refuse to talk, their version of the facts is already recorded.

You have the legal right to report sexual harassment at work. If your employer fires you, demotes you or takes any other negative action against you for reporting sexual harassment, then the company will be liable for “retaliation” charges as well.

How does the process work?

After I advise you that you have a viable claim for sexual harassment, and you have gone through the reporting process with your own employer, I will help you file a claim with either the Nevada Equal Rights Commission or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  This begins the investigation process that is necessary to bring a lawsuit.  The investigation by the government agency will take at least six (6) months before a lawsuit can be filed.  You will be interviewed by an investigator, and the investigator will contact the employer and witnesses for a response.  There is often an attempt to mediate the case, although many companies decline to participate in a mediation.  Some cases are settled at this stage.  If a settlement cannot be reached, a lawsuit is started in the court system.

Discrimination

Various federal and Nevada laws prevent discrimination in the workplace, against discrimination due to age, disability, national origin, race/color, religion, gender and sexual orientation, or for being pregnant.  The most obvious cases are where someone at work calls you names or uses degrading language against your race, national origin or sexual orientation.  For example, a case where a manager yells at a Hispanic worker, “Stupid Mexicans!  You should learn English or go back to Mexico!” Unless there is clear evidence that something has happened, it’s hard to bring a case.  If it’s not a case where there was open discrimination, like firing old people for younger people, or assigning African American or Hispanic workers to the “grunt work”, a pattern or authorized procedure will have to be shown.

What is NOT discrimination?

In Nevada employers can terminate employees without a reason, or for any reason that doesn’t fit within the categories of discrimination listed above.  Being a jerk isn’t against the law – bosses and managers can generally yell at workers, be mean, treat people badly, have preferences among workers, fire you for being absent or late or fire you for wrongful accusations that you have stolen something from the workplace.  Being accused of stealing or blamed for someone else’s mistake and then being fired is common.  It’s not fair, but it’s not illegal.

What to do first?
Report discrimination your employer and/or your union, if you’re a union member.  Go through the company or union’s grievance process. To bring an effective lawsuit, you have to report the harassment first and give the company a chance to fix the situation. Also, it is very important if you are terminated to write a written response to any accusation against you for your employee file.  You need to record your side of the facts.

At the same time, get written and signed statements from as many people as you can who can confirm your story.  It doesn’t have to be notarized at this stage, but what we need is for your friends and supporters to put their own testimony in writing.  Many people whom you thought would support you (because they told you they would help) get “cold feet” and avoid participation in the process once the employer threatens their own job.  Or, they change their own version against you.  I’ve seen this happen.  Avoid it by getting everything you can in writing from your co-workers and friends as early as possible.  That way, if witnesses change their story later or refuse to talk, their version of the facts is already recorded.

You have the legal right to report discrimination at work. If your employer fires you, demotes you or takes any other negative action against you for reporting discrimination, then the company will be liable for “retaliation” charges as well.

How does the process work?

After I advise you that you have a viable claim for discrimination, and you have gone through the reporting process with your own employer, I will help you file a claim with either the Nevada Equal Rights Commission or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  (Note: federal employees usually only have 45 days to report to the EEOC or they can lose their right to bring a claim). This begins the investigation process that is necessary to bring a lawsuit.  The investigation by the government agency will take at least six (6) months before a lawsuit can be filed.  You will be interviewed by an investigator, and the investigator will contact the employer and witnesses for a response.  There is often an attempt to mediate the case, although many companies decline to participate in a mediation.  Some cases are settled at this stage.  If a settlement cannot be reached, a lawsuit is started in the court system.