Harassment at work—explained by a sexual harassment lawyer.
Several federal, state, and local laws protect you from sexual harassment at work. Despite this, sexual harassment remains common in Maryland workplaces. If you're a victim of sexual harassment, you should contact a Maryland employment lawyer today.
What is sexual harassment?
Generally, there are two forms of sexual harassment:
quid pro quo harassment; and,
hostile work environment harassment.
Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that translates to "this for that." It occurs when a supervisor makes requests for sexual favors in exchange for a job benefit. This could be a promotion, raise, or even just keeping your job. Quid pro quo harassment is uncommon; however, it is easier to prove than hostile work environment harassment.
Hostile work environment sexual harassment is much more common. A hostile work environment is one in which harassing conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive atmosphere. This generally requires more than isolated incidents or casual jokes. Typically, the behavior is so severe and pervasive that it affects the dignity, comfort, and productivity of the victim.
Sexual harassment includes harassment that happens outside work. As long as the harassment has consequences in the workplace (by making your work environment uncomfortable), it qualifies.
The detrimental impacts of a hostile work environment, however, transcend beyond the discomfort or unpleasantness experienced by the victim. Sexual harassment results in reduced productivity, high employee turnover, and often leads to severe legal consequences for employers. In extreme cases, it can result in verbal or physical sexual assault.
Comments of a sexual nature don't automatically equate to sexual harassment. And the types of sexual harassment can be difficult to identify. Contact one of our Maryland sexual harassment lawyers today for a consultation—we're here to help.
How do I prove sexual harassment?
If you've experienced unwanted sexual advances at work, you may worry about how to prove it happened. This is where our expertise in sexual harassment cases is key. At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we know that our increasingly digital world provides mountains of evidence. For example, we recently used Apple Watch data to show a high heart rate during an incident of sexual harassment.
Generally, hostile work environment claims are far more common than quid pro quo claims. To prove a hostile work environment sexual harassment case, you'll need to prove that the harassment was:
based on sex;
that, based on a "totality of the circumstances," it created a hostile work environment; and,
that your employer should be responsible for the harassment.
See Magee v. Dansources Technical Services, Inc., 137 Md. App. 527, 550 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2001).
Until recently, you had to prove that the sexual harassment was "severe or pervasive." In other words, you had to show extreme conduct, or an extended pattern of less extreme conduct. But as of October 1, 2022, the "severe or pervasive" standard no longer applies in Maryland. Now, you have to show the "totality of the circumstances" suggest a hostile work environment—that's significantly easier.
To prove a workplace sexual harassment case, it's important to show that your employer was aware of the bad conduct. In our experience, this is the hardest "element" to prove in sexual harassment claims. The exception here is if your harasser is your supervisor. In that case, your employer is almost automatically on the hook.
Ultimately, employers that ignore reports of sexual harassment are playing with (legal) fire. That's why it's important that you promptly report any incidents of harassment or a hostile work environment. You should also contact a Maryland sexual harassment lawyer as early on in the process as possible.
Should I file a complaint for sexual harassment?
Absolutely. In addition to contacting a sexual harassment attorney, you need to promptly file a complaint with your employer.
If you've experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, you should take the following initial steps:
Document. Start by documenting any potential evidence of the harassment. This could include saving text messages, letters, notes, or even statements from witnesses. That said, do not secretly record anyone (Maryland is a two-party consent state).
Report. If someone physically assaults you, you should start by contacting the police. Then, report the harassment to your employer's human resources department. If you work for a small employer, go right to the top to the business owners or managers with your complaint.
Seek Care. Victims of sexual harassment often experience shame, self-doubt, or anxiety. Remember that you're a victim, and those feelings are a normal response to a traumatic event. It can help your case to seek care from a counselor or psychiatrist, and it's good for your health regardless.
To pursue a sexual harassment case, you generally need to file a complaint with a government agency first. Often, this is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. If possible, have your lawyer file this complaint for you. They will draft a strong complaint, and file it directly with the EEOC, potentially saving you weeks of red tape.
Can my employer retaliate when I complain about sexual harassment?
No. A number of federal, state, and local laws prohibit retaliation for complaints of sexual harassment. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits retaliation against complainants.
The definition of "complaint" for these purposes is extremely broad. You have protection as long as you reasonably perceive and oppose the harassment.
As a result of a complaint, your employer generally cannot do any of the following to you:
termination of employment
reassignment to a less desirable position or duties
reduction of work hours
relocation to a less desirable workplace (for example, further from your home or requiring your to move)
failure to promote you
disciplinary actions, particularly those that have an adverse effect on your pay or opportunities for advancement, including:
performance improvement plans
poor performance evaluations, especially those that have a negative effect on your pay
failure to award pay increases or raises.
placement on an unpaid leave of absence
placement on paid administrative leave (when that leave is stigmatizing, or affects your coworkers perceptions of you)
Finally, your employer can't retaliate against "related third parties." This includes, for example, retaliation against a spouse.
Contact us today to speak with one of our Maryland sexual harassment lawyers. We can help you document the harassment, complain to your employer, or even sue for damages. We are here to help.
Doane v. Strategic Housing Solutions LLC
In an unpaid wages case, obtained a trial victory and treble (3x) damages against employer.
Garner v. Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Development Corp.
In a wrongful termination case, resolved after obtaining sanctions against employer for destroying evidence.
Boston v. Dinocrates Group, LLC, et al.
In an unpaid wages case, obtained a judgment against Dinocrates Group, LLC for nearly $300,000.
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