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San Francisco Employment Law Blog

Quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environments

California employees might be the victims of two different but related types of sexual harassment in the workplace at the same time. Hostile workplace harassment may involve creating a difficult work environment for a person through comments or behavior while quid pro quo harassment refers to a worker suffering a consequence such as demotion or firing after refusing a supervisor's sexual advances.

In a case in Oklahoma, a truck driver's suit was dismissed by a lower court that held that the driver did not give enough notice that he was alleging quid pro quo harassment. When a hostile environment is alleged, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will sometimes look into whether quid pro quo harassment was involved as well because the two are related. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the two are related, and in this case, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the lower court had erred.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

In California, employers are responsible for creating safe workplace environments. This includes sexual harassment, which includes any unwelcome advances or conduct that is sexual in nature. When sexual harassment incidents occur at work, some employees may find that the workplace becomes intimidating, offensive or even hostile.

There are many different forms of sexual harassment. For example, an employee can be accused of sexual harassment if they make derogatory comments toward a coworker, telling sexually explicit jokes or using suggestive or explicit language in emails. Other forms of sexual harassment can include having a supervisor implying that a coworker must sleep with him or her in order to get a raise or promotion. Employers and employees should be aware that both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment.

Female doctors claim discrimination at work

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that four out of five female physicians had experienced discrimination at work. Researchers asked members of an online community called the Physicians Moms Group about their mental and physical health as well as their experiences at work. Of the almost 6,000 women who responded, roughly 78 percent said that they had experienced some form of workplace discrimination.

Furthermore, 35 percent said that they had been the victim of maternal discrimination, which means that they are discriminated against for anything related to being a mom. Common types of maternal discrimination included issues related to breast feeding or being pregnant. The women who responded to the survey were from a wide variety of medical fields including emergency medicine, family medicine and pathology. They had also worked at a variety of institutions such as public hospitals, VA hospitals and academic research facilities.

The implication of "after-acquired" evidence

California workers who are thinking about filing a discrimination lawsuit against an employer may want to know more about the "after-acquired evidence" defense. As the name implies, after-acquired evidence is information that an employer discovers about an employee after a termination. Companies may claim that this information would have led to an employee's termination had it been discovered prior to a worker being let go.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that such evidence could be used to limit damages or other relief sought in a workplace discrimination suit. For instance, a company may only be required to provide back pay from the date of the wrongful termination to the day that a worker would have been fired for improper conduct. Without this evidence, it may be possible to seek back pay from the time of termination until a new job was found.

Sexual harassment in the workplace takes many forms

Workers in California and around the country are protected from sexual harassment in the workplace by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the courts have recognized various types of this kind of harassment. Quid-pro-quo- sexual harassment takes place when workers are required to have sex or enter into romantic relationships with their supervisors in order to keep their jobs or secure some sort of benefit such as a promotion or raise. Sexual harassment also occurs when offensive behavior is tolerated and workplaces become hostile environments, and discriminatory hiring and promotion practices also violate Title VII.

A case involving female farm workers provides clear examples of all of these kinds of workplace sexual harassment. The attorney general of Washington state alleged in a federal complaint filed on April 26 that the women were coerced into having sex with their supervisor and routinely groped while going about their duties. The complaint also claims that the employer involved most likely knew about the ongoing sexual harassment and failed to put a stop to it.

Attitudes toward sexual harassment over the decades

Although 98 percent of businesses have policies in place against sexual harassment and more than two-thirds of companies provide training aimed at recognizing and discouraging this behavior, there is evidence that the problem has not significantly improved over the decades. In 1980, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey about sexual harassment among its subscribers. California workers and those throughout the country may be interested in learning that the study found that two times as many men as women considered the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace to be overblown.

At the time of the survey, women were more likely to think that men should be formally reprimanded for sexual harassment. The female respondents also tended to predict that men would approve of or fail to prevent sexual harassment that they observed in greater numbers than the men actually did.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation ruled illegal

While California employees already enjoy protection from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, this is not the case in every state. However, on April 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit became the first full federal appeals court to conclude that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to this type of discrimination. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on gender.

,p>The ruling acknowledged that when Congress passed the act, it might not have considered the implications in terms of sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the opinion said that the Supreme Court's position on gay rights had played a part in the interpretation. In addition, the opinion pointed out, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation was inherently gender-based discrimination.

The opinion also acknowledged that in previous years, appeals courts had ruled that the prohibition against sex-based discrimination did not protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, it argued that two decades of Supreme Court decisions supported the conclusion that discrimination based on sexual orientation was illegal.

Employers may be discriminating against older applicants

A study led by an economist at the University of California, Irvine, has found employers may be discriminating against older individuals who are applying for jobs. The researchers sent out 40,000 resumes applying for actual jobs. The resumes that were sent out were identical for the same job type with the exception of the ages of the applicants.

The economists found that the rates of contact from employers were different depending on the applicant's age. Younger individuals had a significantly higher call back rate for an interview when compared to applicants who were older. Middle aged applicants were less likely to be called back than younger applicants, and older applicants were even less likely to be contacted than middle aged applicants.

Class-action lawsuit filed against jewelry company

California employees may be interested in learning that the discrimination claims that were filed against Sterling Jewelry Co. have developed into a class-action lawsuit. The claims are all centered around the management and the work culture they developed that was demeaning to female employees.

The claims were originally filed in 2008 and alleged that female employees were subjected to promotion discrimination, sexual harassment and unwanted requests for sex in order to be given better store assignments. The allegations reached class-action status in 2013 and did not become public until February 2017. Ultimately, approximately 250 employees filed declarations that female employees were demeaned in the workplace. Attorneys for the employees argued that the sworn statements showed that the company had fostered a work environment that was hostile to female employees.

Women accuse jewelry company of sexual harassment

Diamonds might be called a girl's best friend, but 1,300 pages of sworn testimony from a class-action arbitration case against Sterling Jewelers Inc. allege that female employees experienced widespread sexual harassment. The company operates jewelry stores in malls throughout California and the country, and the attorney for the plaintiffs described the extent of the evidence against the company as "breathtaking".

The case applies to 69,000 current and former female employees, and 250 of them provided statements that recounted two decades of mistreatment. According to testimony, male store managers scouted for women to proposition for sex. Promises of pay increases, promotions or protection from punishment were offered for sexual favors. Witnesses gave details about annual managers' meetings where men drank and groped women. Complaints from female employees allegedly resulted in retaliation like an accusation of theft followed by dismissal.

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