Sexual Harassment by Well-Known Public Figures at Work Parties

Two well-known public figures in New York are in the news for sexual harassment this month and, in each circumstance, the basis for their scandals relates back (at least in part) to their alleged actions at previous workplace holiday party events. These news stories are stark reminders of the fact that, while workplace holiday parties should be a joyous and celebratory time, they’re too often marred by employees who engage in sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. If that has happened to you, the law allows you to seek compensation, so you should promptly get in touch with an experienced New York City sexual harassment lawyer.

Current New York State Attorney General Letitia James has been accused by some of seeking to improperly protect longtime former chief of staff, Ibrahim Khan, in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against him. In 2017, a former coworker accused Khan of drugging and sexually assaulting her at a 2014 holiday party held at a Tribeca pub, according to the New York Post.

James’s aide isn’t the only New York public figure under scrutiny for his holiday party behavior. There’s also a former bureau chief within the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Multiple women made numerous allegations, including one DA’s office employee who alleged that, at a holiday party, the chief engaged in unwanted touching of her leg and also made comments “of a sexual nature” about the woman’s shoes and legs, the Post reported.

The regrettable reality is that, as long as there are holiday parties — especially when those events involve the availability of alcoholic beverages — those circumstances will lead to sexual harassment.

How Harassment at a Holiday Party Happens

Sexual harassment at a workplace holiday party can occur in a variety of ways. One type involves the exchange of gifts at a holiday party. In the case of a gift-based sexual harassment claim (as with all forms of holiday party-related harassment,) context matters, as the misconduct involved must be sufficiently extreme to constitute a change to the victim’s “terms and conditions of employment.”

In other words, getting a book of sex jokes in the company-wide “White Elephant” gift exchange is one thing. Receiving a sheer lace bra and edible underwear that was specifically given to you by your supervisor is something more.

Another situation where harassment can take place is during public comments made at the party. If, for example, the employer places an employee on stage to give a speech and that employee — perhaps fueled in part by alcohol — makes sexually inappropriate comments or jokes during his speech, then that could be the basis for a sexual harassment claim. Again, context is key. A managerial employee joking about holding a future holiday party at the pool of a tropical resort where his female coworkers would presumably be wearing swimsuits is one thing. A manager publicly joking about convening his next “team event” at a clothing-optional resort and inviting only his female subordinates would carry much different weight.

At some workplace holiday parties, the transgressions are more malicious. Some workers will use their company’s holiday party — and their hopes of their colleagues feeling uninhibited — as an opportunity to pursue sexual conquests. They may use the party as a place to make sexual advances upon colleagues or, worse still, to engage in sexually predatory behaviors like sexual assault (including assaults facilitated by drugging the target.)

When something like this happens, it is important to understand how best to achieve your goals. Suing just Brad the office cad, even if successful, may not help you recover all the compensation you deserve. On the other hand, if you can successfully pursue your employer, you may have a greater opportunity to get everything you deserve. When you’re suing your employer, certain facts can help. If, for example, the person who harassed and/or assaulted you was a sufficiently high-ranking employee, your employer may be what the law calls “strictly liable” for the harm you suffered, even if ownership didn’t know about it.

Harassment and/or assaults by lower-level supervisory employees potentially may also implicate strict liability if the harasser had control over you professionally. So, if your harasser was the team leader overseeing your team, or if he was a Senior Vice President (over any department,) then you may have a case for strict liability against your employer.

The diligent and determined New York sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates are dedicated to fighting vigorously for our clients harmed as a result of the workplace harassment they’ve endured. If you’ve experienced this sort of misconduct, don’t be afraid to speak out. Our attorneys are here to help you get the justice you deserve. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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