Sexual Harassment, ‘Continuing Violations,’ and Hostile Work Environment Claims in New York

For some workers, sexual harassment is something that can force them to confront some difficult choices, like whether or not to leave their job. Even if you’ve decided to stay in your current workplace, it is important to contact a knowledgeable New York sexual harassment lawyer as soon as possible. The law erects some strict deadlines for taking action and failure to meet those deadlines potentially can have extremely harmful impacts.

For some other workers, these deadlines may trigger a loss of certain older pieces of evidence. For others, though, the law may allow you to use older incidents of harassment, even if they occurred outside the window of “timeliness” that the law generally allows.

One scenario in which that’s true is something called a “continuing violation,” of which a recent sexual harassment case from Westchester County is a good example.

In early 2017, K.S., a bisexual woman, joined the police department for a town located about 10 miles north of Yonkers. During training, K.S. had a male training officer who allegedly focused “unwanted sexual attention” on her, including inviting her to dinner and sending her a gift basket.

Several months later, another male superior – a sergeant and K.S.’s de facto shift supervisor – allegedly sexually assaulted her by grabbing her by the shoulders while she was bent over and “forcefully push[ing] his genital area towards her buttocks.” He also allegedly texted her to discuss “her personal relationships and sexual orientation.” Even though she told the sergeant she didn’t want to have those sorts of conversations with him, he allegedly persisted in sending her “inappropriate texts of a sexual nature.”

Additionally, a female superior officer “made comments… about Plaintiff’s sexual orientation, and made remarks that Plaintiff was untrustworthy in reference to” her report about the sexual assault by the sergeant.

After allegedly enduring all of that, the woman finally sued the town for sexual harassment and hostile work environment violations of Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law.

The town sought dismissal of the case, arguing that the woman filed her claims too late. (Under Title VII, you generally have 300 days in which to file an administrative claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)

When Misconduct Adds Up to a ‘Continuing Violation’

The town argued that the 300-day rule meant that anything that happened before Oct. 10, 2019 (300 days before K.S.’s first EEOC filing) was time-barred. The employee, however, argued that those older events were actionable as something called a “continuing violation.” Continuing violations occur when the illegal conduct the worker endured is “composed of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one unlawful practice, and functions to delay the commencement of the statute of limitations period until the last discriminatory act in furtherance of that broader unlawful practice.”

As the District Judge explained, under the continuing violation rule, “if a Title VII plaintiff files an EEOC charge that is timely as to any incident of discrimination in furtherance of an ongoing policy of discrimination, all claims of discrimination under that policy will be timely even if they would be untimely standing alone.”

Establishing a continuing violation can be highly beneficial when you are advancing a hostile work environment claim. As the court noted, a hostile work environment claim, “by its very nature involves repeated conduct, and, as such, cannot be said to occur on any particular day.” What that means – and how it can help you as a hostile work environment plaintiff – is that the court can consider the entirety of your claim so long as you establish two essential things:

  1. That at least some of the illegal acts underlying your claim were not time-barred, and
  2. That the timely acts and the time-barred acts are sufficiently connected to each other.

In K.S.’s case, she had only one act that was timely – the superior officer’s comments questioning her truthfulness regarding the sexual assault incident. That one incident, however, was both timely and clearly interconnected with the rest of the plaintiff’s claims of a pattern of escalating harassment, so that meant that the court could consider all of her hostile work environment evidence.

Sexual harassment at work is something no woman – or man – should have to put up with. If it has happened to you, don’t wait to act. The knowledgeable New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates understand the complexity and the sensitivity of the issues involved in a sexual harassment case. We have the skills and relevant experience to provide you with the powerful and thoughtful representation you deserve. To find out more, contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

Contact Information