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What Is A Sexually Hostile Work Environment?

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2020 | Gender Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination & Maternity Rights, Sexual Harassment |

What Is A Sexually Hostile Work Environment?

Best Ohio Sexual Harassment Lawyer Answer: Can you be sexually harassed outside of work? What defines harassment? Can I sue for sexual harassment if my boss only made one or two sexual comments towards me? What do I do if I feel unsafe at work because my boss keeps coming on to me? What are the two most common types of harassment? What Is A Sexually Hostile Work Environment?

Last week, our employment lawyers answered the question, “Is Sexual Harassment At Work Common?” Since then, I was on the news again about one of our sexual harassment cases. After being on the news, my daughters asked if sexual harassment in the workplace was really that common. I told them that, unfortunately it was and went over some of the numbers in this previous blog. At that moment, I was confronted with a question that I ask at every interview for an attorney position at this firm: “Explain sexual harassment laws to a 12-year old girl.” I wrote this question when my older daughter, now 18, was 12-years-old. Now, I was faced with my youngest, who is currently 12 asking about sexual harassment. You may be thinking that she is too young to have this conversation. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in, and I believe that if she is old enough to ask, as a parent, I, along with my amazing wife, have a responsibility to educate what women face.

To drive home what woman really do encounter in the workplace, I wanted to find someone reporting it that they could relate to and I found a few quotes by famous women regarding sexual harassment.

We started with Jennifer Lawrence, who described how easy it is for male managers or bosses to cross from simple gender discrimination into sexual harassment:

“One girl before me had already been fired for not losing enough weight fast enough. And, during this time, a female producer had me do a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me. And we all stood side-by-side with only paste-ons covering our privates. After that degrading and humiliating lineup, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet. I asked to speak to a producer about the unrealistic diet regime and he responded by telling me he didn’t know why everyone thought I was so fat, he thought I was perfectly ‘fuckable.’ … I want you to know we’re here for you. We’re all here for each other. Together, now, we will stop this kind of behavior from happening. We will stop normalizing these horrific situations. We will change this narrative and make a difference for all of those individuals pursuing their dreams.” — Elle’s Women in Hollywood, October 2017

Next, my youngest daughter asked, “does sexual harassment always have to by a boss or manager?” So, we discussed and how it is unlawful for an employer to sit back and refuse to address sexual harassment. (See Does My Boss Need To Stop My Sexually Harassing Coworker?; Can I Sue My Job For Sexual Harassment By Customers Or Coworkers?). Blake Lively’s account of being sexually harassed by a coworker is a good example of a sexually hostile environment:

“He was saying things inappropriately, insisting on putting my lipstick on with his finger. I was sleeping one night on location and I woke up and he was filming me. I was clothed, but it was a very voyeuristic, terrifying thing to do. … Finally, after three months of complaining, [the producers] called me into my trailer and said, ‘We need to talk to you.’ I thought, ‘Well finally, they’re going to do something about this man who I had to have touching me all day.’ And they said, ‘Your dog left a poop behind the toilet in your dressing room and our janitor had to pick it up. And this is very serious, and we can’t have this happen again.’” — The Los Angeles Times, October 2017

My older daughter then asked, “Is sexual harassment ever considered okay?” In other words, are there any workplaces were the boys’ mentality is still acceptable? While there are some last bastions of misogyny that still try and live in the past (some car dealerships, police and fire department, doctors’ offices and even law firms, to name a few), it is never acceptable. Never. On this Elissa Schappell, a fine America novelist, stated:

“Women writers, above all, are expected to understand and, if not tolerate, then excuse the bad behavior of male writers and editors. When these men, who trace their privilege to being the sons of Mailer, Updike, and Hemingway, behave inappropriately (for example, make sexual comments about your body in public, offer to get your colleague fired if you take off your clothes, kiss you, put a hand on your ass … ) the culture accepts that they are just performing their vocation and their gender. Indeed, if the man is considered to be famous or a genius the woman, regardless of her stature, should count herself lucky — lucky! Lucky? Hardly. Harassment is harassment.” — Lithub, March 2017

My oldest daughter then asked, “is it still sexual harassment if the boss doesn’t ask to have sex?” I told her that there are two types of sexual harassment, with the requirement to trade sexual favors for job benefits (quid pro quo sexual harassment) being only one of them. (See Can I Be Fired For Refusing To Have Sex With My Boss?; and Can I Sue If My Boss Texted Me That I Have To Have Sex With Him?). More common is a claim for a sexually hostile work environment. A sexually hostile work environment occurs when a victim employee (1) was subjected to unwanted harassment; (2) the harassment was based on sex; and (3) the harassment was so severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of employment. (See Can I Sue My Same Sex Boss For Sexual Harassment?; How Do I Prove That I Was Sexually Harassed At Work By My Boss? Help, I Need The Best Sex Harassment Lawyer in Ohio!). Sallie Krawcheck, who is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, a digital financial advisor for women launched in 2016 and previously was the president of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division for Bank of America, told her story co-workers putting their penises on the Xerox copier and leaving her the copies on her desk:

The first time it happened, I didn’t know what it was. I was like, ‘What is this strange, artistic, squishy-looking distorted thing?’ [When I figured it out,] I was upset. And I was humiliated. And I was embarrassed. And I felt shame. And I knew they didn’t want me there … [But,] I had to pay rent. This was weeks out of college. New job. Full year lease signed on East 86th Street in New York City. My parents could not afford to pay my rent. I couldn’t imagine I could get another job. I really didn’t feel like I had a choice … I just didn’t even have a conception that you would march yourself into somebody’s office and ask that this stop. So, I just kept showing up … There are many more options than silence. Big companies have confidential employee hotlines (on board I’ve been on, those calls have been reported directly to the board). So, there are many more options today, and people should definitely avail themselves of them … If we’re not having these conversations, those old gender expectations and beliefs that have in part kept us from moving forward professionally will continue on, unchallenged.” — CNBC, January 2017

My oldest daughter followed up by asking for other examples of sexual harassment. So, I pointed to the quote from model Cameron Russell, who said:

“On many occasions I’ve been called a feminist for reporting unwanted groping, spanking, pinching, pressure for dates, phone calls and texts of a sexual nature, lack of appropriate changing areas, etc. And because the response has always been ‘are you surprised?’ or ‘that’s part of the job’ I tolerated them. When the offenses were bigger, calling them out is terrifying, and demands a level of exposure and backlash to what is already painful and sometimes shameful. #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse” — her Instagram, October 2017

We also looked at Ashley Judd’s report:

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.

“How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” – New York Times, Oct. 5, 2017

My youngest daughter asked, “do only young pretty women get sexually harassed?” The answer is no. Our employment attorneys have represented sexually harassed women of every age, size and color within sexually hostile work environments. Roxane Gay, a New York Times best seller, wrote:

“People love to believe that fat women or unattractive women avoid harassment or assault. I bought into that too. When I [was] a child. We’re not immune from assault. We aren’t believed. ‘Who would harass you?’ And that makes us bigger targets. My home is carpeted with the tongues of men who expected me to [be] grateful for their harassment.” —her Twitter, October 2017

My eldest daughter then asked if companies just fire guys who sexually harass women is a sexually hostile work environment. Unfortunately, I told them, many companies will turn a blind eye to this type of behavior if it is against their interest. Susan Fowler, who blew the whistle and wrote a book about her experiences at Uber wrote:

“On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners, but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR … Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on — unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently.

When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.” —her blog, February 2017

What Is A Sexually Hostile Work Environment?

My youngest then asked if reporting a man could ruin his life. I told her that the man made his choices and not reporting him could ruin more women’s lives. On this point, Taylor Swift was spot on. At a 2013 post-concert meet-and-greet a Denver country radio personality, David Mueller, reached under her skirt and grabbed her butt. After Swift reported the incident, the radio show’s executives fired Mueller, who turned around and sued Swift for millions in damages. We all agreed that this was pretty dumb. As you likely know, Swift filed a counterclaim seeking simply $1 so that she could get a judgment confirming what Mueller had done. At trial, Mueller’s lawyer question Swift on the stand and asked if she felt remorse that Mueller lost his job. Every woman should know her response: “I’m not going to let you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault… the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions. Not mine.” She later commented:

“I figured that if he would be brazen enough to assault me under these risky circumstances, imagine what he might do to a vulnerable, young artist if given the chance.” Time – December 6, 2017

My youngest’s last question was, “what should women do if they are sexually harassed [in a sexually hostile work environment] – who helps them?” I told her that is exactly what we do at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, we help women who have been harassed; we fight for them; and we try to stop it from happening to anyone else. She smiled, it was like her dad was a superhero. Our attorneys will fight for every single woman that is sexually harassed as if you are our own daughters, sisters or mothers. This fight means a lot to us.

Our employment attorneys do not want you to be in situations like this. We do not want you to feel like you could have done more. That’s why our employment attorneys are here to help provide realistic solutions as soon as anything happens to you.

When people imagine a sexually hostile work environment, they probably picture something like the stories above: a boss who makes inappropriate sexually based comments, gestures, or touches his or her employee’s inappropriately. If you are experiencing this type of sexual harassment at work, it may be nearly impossible for you to do your job effectively.

But, it’s important to remember that sexual harassment can create a negative working environment, regardless of whether your boss threatens to fire you if you do not provide sexual favors. You do not have to gain or be denied a benefit, such as an increase in pay in exchange for sex for sexual harassment to occur.

Thankfully, our employment attorneys have the law on their side and know how to deal with sexually hostile work environments. Fortunately, sexually hostile work environments are illegal under both Ohio and federal law. This is because sexual harassment falls under the scope of gender discrimination, which violates both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio Revised Code 4112.

While we stopped talking that day, my conversation with my daughters is not over. The conversations about sexual harassment should never stop.

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 hostile or charged working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/sexually 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. Call our office at 866-797-6040.


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 if I’m being sexually harassed at work”, “I’m working in a sexually hostile work environment,” “my manager grabbed my ass”, “my boss is sending me dick pics,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated,” or “how do I find the top sexual harassment lawyer”, 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 Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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