‘Nearly Constant’ Sexual Advances by a Supervisor — and Retaliation For Rejecting Those Advances — Were Enough to Support a New York Worker’s Sexual Harassment Case

In this day and age, you might think that people in supervisory roles in the workplace would understand that the team members who work for them are not their dating pool. Regrettably, if you thought that, you’d often be proven wrong, as court dockets have no shortage of cases where exactly that sort of misconduct allegedly occurred. People go to work to achieve goals, get paid, and maybe make the world a better place, not to be “hit upon” or propositioned. If you have endured that kind of workplace, don’t think you simply have to put up with it. Instead, get in touch with a knowledgeable New York City sexual harassment lawyer to discuss your options.

J.F., a woman in her 30s, allegedly was one of those workers who endured that sort of sexual harassment. It began in March 2019, when she took a job as a merchandise coordinator with an e-commerce entity in New York City. Allegedly, the sexual harassment began almost immediately.

During the woman’s first week on the job, her male supervisor asked her a string of problematic questions, which included things like “are you a lesbian?” and “do you have cats?” The supervisor explained his question by opining that he “figured at your age that if there weren’t kids or marriage that there must be a cat in the picture,” according to the complaint.

Her supervisor also frequently offered to buy her lunch, which she always refused. He also allegedly asked her about her astrological sign.

By the second week, the harassment allegedly worsened. The supervisor was giving the woman flowers and jewelry (which she accepted out of fear of retaliation,) as well as making inappropriate comments like “I can feel myself doing the wrong thing, but I can’t help myself” and “I felt a special connection with you. Look, I know this would never work, unless you have daddy issues,” according to the complaint.

The woman rebuffed each of the man’s advances, telling him “I am here to work and make money and I will not put up with bad behavior or advances or be office entertainment for you.” Still, the supervisor allegedly persisted.

By late April, J.F. had convinced her supervisor that she was not romantically interested and, at that point, the supervisor began retaliating against her, according to the complaint. This allegedly included yelling or muttering derisive sexually-oriented comments and making crude hand gestures.

By late May, J.F. approached the employer’s HR team about making a formal harassment complaint against her supervisor. Four days later, the employer fired her.

A Workplace ‘Permeated’ With Discrimination

The federal judge hearing J.F.’s case concluded that she stated viable claims of both hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment. Each of city, state, and federal law recognizes hostile work environment claims, and J.F. plausibly alleged a case under each one. The woman’s case presented a picture of “nearly constant” harassment and a workplace “permeated with discrimination” so bad that it eventually forced her to miss work because stress and panic were making her sick. This alleged conduct met the legal standard for pervasive harassment and an objectively hostile work environment.

The allegations also met the standards of state and federal law concerning quid pro quo harassment. Quid pro quo harassment is broader than just “have sex with me right now or I’ll fire you” or “sleep with me and I’ll make sure you get that promotion.” It can be anything where someone makes sexual advances or proposals and then bases “a decision affecting the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges” of your job on the answer you give to that proposal.

In J.F.’s allegations, after the supervisor came to realize she was never going to accept his advances, he began retaliating, including refusing to review her work and reassigning one of her projects while she was out to lunch. The inference that J.F.’s rejection of her supervisor “formed the basis for decisions that affected the terms of her job” was a plausible one, according to the court.

Many workers fear saying “no” to a supervisor’s improper advances, as they reasonably worry that a refusal could cost them their job. Fortunately, city, state, and federal laws have tools to help workers who have been inappropriately approached in this way. The dedicated New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are equipped to help you fight back. We’ve successfully represented lots of workers like you, and we’re committed to helping see to it that justice served is in your case. To find out more, contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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