Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

Filing a sexual harassment lawsuit requires putting highly unpleasant allegations on paper, and then filing them in the public record. People of all genders have felt able to come forward in the past few years with accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. Some people bring legal claims, while others tell their stories to the media. A few alleged harassers have responded with legal claims of their own, often focusing on alleged falsehoods in their accusers’ stories. Parties on both sides of New York City sexual harassment claims sometimes bring defamation claims against their opponents. Defamation is a personal injury claim alleging that a defendant made a false statement about the plaintiff that resulted in financial harm. The New York Legislature passed a law this summer that targets defamation lawsuits intended not to recover damages for actual losses, but to silence people by threatening them with expensive litigation. These are often known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation, or “SLAPPs,” and they sometimes appear in response to sexual harassment claims.

A sexual harassment complaint must provide enough information about the alleged behavior to enable the court, the defendant, and others to understand the nature of the plaintiff’s claims. Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination under both New York and federal law. A plaintiff must demonstrate that one or more people in the workplace engaged in hostile or harassing behavior based on sex. This may include, for example, unwelcome sexual conduct or remarks that are either pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would find that it created a hostile work environment.

A plaintiff’s complaint must set forth the type of behavior that led to their claims. This often includes direct accusations of harassment against one or more individuals. As a case progresses, a plaintiff must continue to gather and present evidence for their claims.

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The restaurant industry presents some of the most egregious examples of workplace sexual harassment in the country. New York City sexual harassment attorneys handle claims arising in nearly every part of the economy, so the problem is not at all limited to that industry. Restaurants seem to present many of the circumstances in which harassment often thrives. Servers may depend on supervisors to assign them good shifts, and then they depend on customers for tip income. Some restaurants foster environments where, even if servers and other employees are not overtly sexualized, sexual banter is tolerated or even encouraged. A lawsuit filed this summer in a New York City state court alleges many of the most egregious situations found in restaurant sexual harassment cases. The plaintiff’s complaint describes ongoing harassment by both employees and customers of the restaurant.

Under laws like the New York State Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is considered a type of sex discrimination. The law recognizes two broad categories of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment. A hostile work environment claim arises when unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace is so pervasive or severe that it interferes with someone’s ability to perform their job duties. A single incident can support a hostile work environment claim if it is severe enough, although this is a difficult burden of proof to meet. Most claims alleging a hostile work environment involve ongoing verbal or physical harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee must give in to some sort of sexual demand as part of their job or in order to obtain a job. In the film and television business, the term “casting couch” refers to the practice of producers or directors giving a role to whoever is most agreeable to such demands. In the restaurant business, it often occurs when a manager or supervisor expects sexual favors in exchange for the best shift assignments or other perks.

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Mandatory arbitration provisions are an increasingly common feature in many kinds of contracts, including employment contracts. Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution that resembles a trial in many ways. It offers certain advantages over litigation, but it is often disadvantageous for employees. New York State law does not allow employers to enforce mandatory arbitration clauses in discrimination claims, including sexual harassment. A New York City court recently denied an employer’s attempt to do exactly this. It rejected the employer’s argument that federal law preempts the New York law. This conflicts with a 2019 decision by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, which could be an issue in the pending appeal.

Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex in two situations:
1. When acquiescence to sexual demands is a condition of employment, known as quid pro quo sexual harassment; or
2. When unwelcome sexual conduct is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment.
In 2018, the New York Legislature enacted a law, codified as § 7515 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, prohibiting “mandatory arbitration to resolve any allegation or claim of discrimination” under the New York State Human Rights Law or other employment antidiscrimination statutes.

The plaintiff in the state court lawsuit filed suit in April 2019 for sexual harassment and retaliation under state and city law. She alleges that the employer, a multinational fashion and luxury goods company, “did everything it could to bury the problem,” and that it tried to “convince [her] that the harassment was just a byproduct of being an attractive woman who works at a company with a French culture, and thus should simply be tolerated.”

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Sexual harassment occurs whenever someone abuses their authority in the workplace to try to coerce someone into some kind of sexual activity, or whenever one or more people subject someone to an unwelcome and hostile work environment based on sex. New York City sexual harassment attorneys routinely bring lawsuits on behalf of workers who have experienced these types of misconduct. The New York Attorney General (AG) is also taking a role in fighting against workplace sexual harassment under state, federal, and city law. The AG’s office announced this summer that it had concluded an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation at a Long Island construction company. It also stated that it had reached a settlement agreement with the company, in which the company will pay $1.5 million in damages.

A legal claim for sexual harassment can arise from specific acts or patterns of conduct by individual employees, as well as from systemic failures by an employer that allow sexual harassment to persist in a workplace. Claims alleging a hostile work environment often require proof not only that an employee faced unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that was either pervasive or severe, but also that the employer knew or should have known about the problematic behavior and failed to take reasonable actions to address it.

Since October 2018, state law has required employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training for all of their employees. Employers may use a model training program developed by the state, or they can use their own as long as it meets certain minimum standards.

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Sexual harassment remains a problem in workplaces throughout the country and the world. As New York City sexual harassment attorneys, we have seen how it can affect every kind of workplace in the city. People with supervisory or managerial authority may decide to abuse their power against workers who may fear standing up for their rights. Many complaints of sexual harassment appear in the restaurant industry, where supervisors have authority over employee schedules, and employees often compete with each other for shifts and tips. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against a company that operates a chain of restaurants in the city.

Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and certain other factors. Under a series of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts, sexual harassment violates Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions in two situations:
1. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when an employee is expected to submit to sexual demands in some form as a condition of getting a job, keeping a job, or obtaining favorable employment conditions. In the restaurant industry, a supervisor with authority over shift schedules who demands sexual favors in exchange for the best assignments has committed quid pro quo sexual harassment.
2. A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct in the workplace is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with a person’s ability to do their job, and any reasonable person would find the situation to be objectively “hostile.” A restaurant that routinely tolerates sexual banter, especially if this occurs over the objections of some employees, could be considered a hostile work environment.

The EEOC filed suit in May 2019 against several companies that operate a chain of restaurants in New York City. The complaint, filed on behalf of a former manager at one of the restaurants, alleged multiple acts of harassment by at least two upper-level managers. This conduct, the complaint alleged, occurred at all of the restaurant locations, as well as during and after the charging party and other employees lodged complaints about the behavior.

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Almost three years ago, the #MeToo movement began widespread exposure of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. This expanded to include nearly every other industry in the country, but much of the focus has remained on the film and television businesses. New York City sexual harassment attorneys have extensive experience representing clients in claims for sexual harassment on Wall Street, in television and theater productions, and elsewhere. In the summer of 2020, sexual harassment in the video game industry began to gain greater attention. This could partly be because of the COVID-19 pandemic — as more people stay at home to prevent the spread of the disease, many of them have turned to video games. This has directed more attention not only to the game development companies, but also the competitive side of gaming, commonly known as “esports,” and livestreams hosted by gamers. A June 2020 New York Times report describes widespread allegations of sexual harassment in these parts of the industry.

Most laws that directly address sexual harassment apply specifically to workplaces and employment relationships. Under these laws, sexual harassment is considered to be unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. This often involves harassment by a supervisor or manager. It could also involve one or more coworkers, clients, customers, or other individuals in situations where the employer knows about the harassment, but fails to act.

As we know from #MeToo, sexual harassment can occur in situations where no direct employment relationship exists. The now-archetypal example, of course, is that of the film producer who demands sexual activity from someone with the accompanying threat — express or implied — to their career prospects if they say no. In those situations, other laws may support a legal claim for sexual harassment, aiding and abetting sexual harassment, or failing to intervene to prevent sexual harassment. This might include claims for negligence or intentional torts, as well as claims based on breach of contract.

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A lawsuit first filed in 2018 makes a series of explosive allegations against a financial firm. New York City sexual harassment attorneys are quite familiar with how the office culture of Wall Street can enable sexual harassment. This lawsuit does not allege an office-wide pattern of inappropriate behavior, but rather multiple acts of coercion against the plaintiff under threat to her job. In the summer of 2020, a Manhattan state court dealt the plaintiff a setback by dismissing several claims and striking her demand for punitive damages. Her cause of action for sexual harassment remains, though, and may proceed to trial.

Sexual harassment constitutes unlawful sex discrimination in two general categories: quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment. The allegations in the present lawsuit could be a textbook case of quid pro quo sexual harassment, which occurs when an employee is expected to submit to the sexual demands of a supervisor or manager as a condition of employment. The demands could be for almost any activity that is unwelcome and related to sex in some way. The threat associated with rejecting the demand could be overt or implied. A supervisor could, for example, demand sexual activity from a job applicant in exchange for a job, or could give preferable work assignments to employees who provide sexual favors in some form.

The plaintiff worked for the defendant employer, a hedge fund, as a portfolio manager and director of a strategy group. She describes herself as “an esteemed leader in the financial service industry” in her complaint, and describes her specialized experience in “distressed investing.” In 2015, the defendant who would become the plaintiff’s supervisor allegedly approached her about creating a new distressed fund for the employer, and she agreed. The plaintiff and the supervisor had dated briefly in the 1990’s, but they disclosed this to the defendant. She claims that the CEO, also named as a defendant, told the supervisor to “keep [his] hands off of her.”

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The former Hollywood producer whose decades-long pattern of sexual harassment launched the #MeToo movement has faced multiple lawsuits alleging employment discrimination, intentional torts like assault and battery, and other claims. He is now the subject of several more lawsuits filed in New York state and federal courts in recent months. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits assert tort claims arising from the former producer’s alleged actions, and his production company’s alleged lack of action to prevent them. They are not asserting claims under employment statutes like the New York State Human Rights Law, because in most cases they were not employees, and were not seeking to become employees of his production company. Instead, they were aspiring actresses. This highlights how, while New York sexual harassment laws cannot always protect people in certain situations, other forms of relief are available.

Sexual harassment is considered unlawful sex discrimination when an employee or job applicant is expected to acquiesce to sexual demands in order to get a job, secure favorable assignments or perks, or avoid termination. This is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment. An example in the employment context might involve a restaurant or retail manager who gives the best shift assignments to employees who meet the manager’s sexual demands.

In the entertainment business, this practice is sometimes known as the “casting couch,” in which a producer or director expects sexual activity in exchange for getting cast in a particular role. This is often accompanied by a threat, express or implied, that rejecting the sexual advances will have negative effects on their career. Since actors and actresses who are cast in movies are usually not employees of the production company, they might not have a claim for relief under employment discrimination laws. They could, however, assert claims under tort law.

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Sexual harassment occurs in all kinds of workplaces all over the country and the world. Most antidiscrimination laws treat it as a form of sex discrimination when a supervisor harasses an employee, or when it occurs among coworkers and the employer fails to intervene. New York City sexual harassment attorneys can bring claims under several different employment statutes. Sex discrimination is not, however, the only type of cause of action that a person who has experienced sexual harassment can bring. A lawsuit filed in May 2020 in a Manhattan federal court demonstrates additional causes of action that may arise from sexual harassment. The case does not involve an employment relationship, but the claims in the lawsuit could apply in that kind of case. The plaintiff asserts negligence and several intentional torts, as well as a claim under New York City’s Gender-Motivated Violence Act (GMVA).

Under laws like the New York City Human Rights Law, sexual harassment constitutes employment discrimination on the basis of sex in two scenarios: (1) when a person must acquiesce to some sort of sexual demand as a condition of employment, or (2) when unwelcome sexual conduct or dialogue in the workplace is sufficiently pervasive or severe to create a hostile work environment. A key factor in most sexual harassment cases is an imbalance of power between the harasser(s) and the person(s) experiencing harassment.

The relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant in the lawsuit mentioned above featured a significant imbalance of power. The defendant is a male physician whom the plaintiff “greatly admired professionally.” The plaintiff is a woman who is fifty-two years younger than the defendant. According to her complaint, the plaintiff first sought treatment from the defendant in 2009, when she was nineteen years old. She alleges that “he developed an almost immediate infatuation with her and began pursuing her romantically.” She states that she “maintained a correspondence” with him over the years because of her professional admiration, but that she also “made it very clear that she was not interested in a romantic or intimate relationship.”

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In late 2017, a series of sexual harassment allegations against a prominent film producer ended his career and launched the #MeToo movement. New York City sexual harassment attorneys know that the kind of conduct described by the film producer’s accusers extends far beyond the entertainment business. It occurs on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, in restaurants and hotels, at fashion shows, and in almost every other workplace in New York City and around the world. Soon after the first allegations gained widespread publicity in 2017, a group of women filed a class action against the producer, his production company, and others alleging a wide range of causes of action related to alleged sexual harassment. In July 2020, a federal judge in New York City rejected a proposed settlement in the class action, questioning whether it would provide fair compensation.

Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination under laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in certain circumstances. For example, quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when acquiescence to sexual demands is a condition of obtaining a job, keeping a job, or securing benefits in a job. The entertainment industry trope known as the “casting couch,” in which a performer — often but not always an actress — must agree to the sexual demands of a producer or director in order to get a part, constitutes this type of sexual harassment. Many of the allegations against the producer are examples of the “casting couch,” since he is alleged to have routinely cited his influence throughout Hollywood in order to coerce women into some form of sexual activity.

The 2017 class action against the producer does not directly allege sexual harassment or sex discrimination as a cause of action. It previously alleged causes of action commonly found alongside claims for sexual harassment, such as negligent supervision and retention and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In 2019, the court dismissed most of the plaintiffs’ claims, along with all defendants except the producer himself. The one remaining cause of action is based on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

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