Best Sexual Harassment Attorney Answer: What should I do if I am being sexually harassed at work? Can I sue my employer for sexual harassment if the person harassing me is a co-worker and not a supervisor? Can a man sue for sexual harassment by another male worker?
The employment law lawyers at the Spitz law firm work hard every day to fight for employees who have been sexually harassed at work. (See Who Can I Sue For Sexual Harassment?; My Boss Is Sexually Harassing Me At Work.; I Was Fired For Opposing Sex Harassment!; and Can I Be Fired For Reporting Sex Harassment To HR?).
Sexual harassment is a form of gender harassment that is prohibited under Ohio and federal law. All employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and R.C. § 4112.02(A) from being discriminated against or retaliated against by their employers on the basis of gender/sex, including protection against sexual harassment. Specifically, Title VII prohibits discrimination in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, on the basis of race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, disability discrimination. Similarly, Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02 prohibits sexual harassment as well.
Two of the most common misconceptions about sexual harassment claims are that only women can sue men for sexual harassment and that employees can only sue for sexual harassment by bosses, managers or supervisors. Our Ohio sex harassment lawyers have addressed this before. (See Can I Sue My Same Gender Boss For Sexual Harassment?; and Same-Sex Sexual Harassment – Less Common, But Just As Illegal).
Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals examined a same sex, co-worker sexual harassment case in Smith v. Rock-Tenn Services, Inc. The plaintiff-employee, Jeffry Smith, began working for Rock-Tenn in August, 2010. While employed with Rock-Tenn, Smith soon became the target of sexual harassment from another male employee, Jim Leonard. Leonard would often grab Smith’s butt, grab his hips and touched him in other inappropriate ways. During one occasion on or around June 4, 2011, after Leonard grabbed Smith’s butt and started “hunching on him” while Smith was bent over working, Smith grabbed Leonard by the throat. The two then separated and Smith was actually sent home by his supervisor, Clinton Gill.
Thereafter, this incident was reported by Smith and other employee to Smith’s direct boss as well as the plant superintendent, but nothing was done, and in fact, Smith was sent back to work in the same area as Leonard. As a result of having to work alongside Leonard and being fearful of more inappropriate conduct, Smith struggled with concentrating on work and eventually suffered an anxiety attack on June 15, 2011. The next day, Smith prepared a letter to management documenting the incidents with Leonard. Smith then requested sick leave and was granted leave by Rock-Tenn.
Around this time, a meeting was held by management regarding the allegations against Leonard and despite recommendations from several managers that he be fired, instead, he was suspended for about two days. Leonard was also given a write up, which described the issue as “horseplay-sexual harassment.” Smith never returned to Rock-Tenn and sought professional mental health treatment thereafter as a result of Leonard’s conduct. He then sued Rock-Tenn for sexual harassment, hostile work environment and constructive discharge. At the district court level, Rock-Tenn’s motion for summary judgment was denied and the case went to trial. Thereafter, Rock-Tenn appealed.
The first issue before the Court was to decide whether Leonard’s conduct was “mere horseplay” or actual sexual harassment barred by Title VII. The Court answered with the latter, holding that, “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and giving him the benefit of all reasonable inferences, as we must, we cannot accept this self-serving characterization of Leonard’s behavior. “Horseplay” was much discussed at trial, and the jury apparently found that pinching and slapping someone on the buttocks or grinding one’s pelvis into another’s behind goes far beyond horseplay. This conclusion is not so unreasonable as to entitle Defendant to judgment as a matter of law.”
The Court also upheld the district court’s ruling that it was a question for a jury as to whether Smith was subjected to a hostile work environment:
All of the incidents Plaintiff experienced or of which he was aware that took place over the roughly six months that he and Leonard both worked in the plant involved the element of physical invasion we have found so crucial in cases like Williams. According to Plaintiff, the three incidents between him and Leonard took place over the course of a few months: about a week separated the first and second incidents, and the third incident occurred a month or more after that. Plaintiff described these incidents as escalating from a slap on the rear, to a painful grab on the rear, to grab by the hips and “hunching,” i.e., briefly simulating sex. A threatening gesture after the first incident and a verbal threat after the second apparently did nothing to prevent subsequent incidents. The incident Plaintiff observed with Gill similarly involved inappropriate touching. Taking into account all the circumstances and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, we cannot say that the jury’s determination that a hostile or abusive work environment existed was unreasonable.
Finally, the Court also found no error in the district court’s decision to deny summary judgment as to the issue of whether Rock-Tenn appropriately responded to Smith’s complaints of sexual harassment against Leonard. The Court explained:
In this case, a reasonable jury could have concluded that Defendant’s total inaction for ten days, where Defendant knew that Leonard had touched Plaintiff, and had told Leonard that further complaints would result in termination, was unreasonable. Defendant did not separate the two men, suspend Leonard pending an investigation, or initiate its investigation in a timely manner; a reasonable jury could find that the failure to take any of these steps or others rendered its response neither prompt nor appropriate in light of what it knew or should have known regarding Leonard’s prior misconduct.
Based on the foregoing, the district court’s rejection of Rock-Tenn’s motion for summary judgment was affirmed.
Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Ohio laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney at 866-797-6040 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At the Spitz law firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harrassment is a form of gender discrimination, and employers should be held accountable if they discriminate against female workers in any fashion – but particularly for sexual harrassment. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
The materials available at the top of this page and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sex harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “what should I do …”, “I’m being sexually harassed …” “my supervisor grabbed my…”, “my boss is touching…,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated,” or “how do I …”, your best course is to contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of the Spitz law firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.