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Federal Sexual Harassment Laws

Federal Sexual Harassment Laws

New York City Attorneys Advocating for Employee Rights

Sexual harassment is prohibited under federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It is illegal to harass either job applicants or employees due to their sex. Most people associate sexual harassment with sexual come-ons to a victim. However, harassment that is actionable under federal law can include offensive remarks about a worker's sex in general. If you believe that you have been subject to a violation of federal sexual harassment laws, you should consult an experienced New York City sexual harassment lawyer at Phillips & Associates.

Protections Under Federal Sexual Harassment Laws

Under Title VII, it is illegal to harass job applicants and employees due to their sex. The victim and the perpetrator can be of either sex, or they can also be of the same sex as each other. In other words, a man could perpetrate sexual harassment against a man under Title VII, and a woman could sexually harass a man. Perpetrators of sexual harassment may be coworkers, supervisors, managers, clients, or customers.

Actionable sexual harassment under Title VII does not include an offhand comment or a trivial, isolated incident. It is illegal either when it is so frequent or severe that it generates a hostile work environment, or when it causes an adverse employment decision, such as a victim being terminated or demoted. Harassment may include unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and words or physical actions of a sexual nature. It can occur even when there is no economic harm to the victim, but it is important that it be unwanted.

If you are being sexually harassed, it is important to tell the perpetrator directly to stop. You should also report the harassment according to the grievance procedures that your employer should have in place. In many cases, this involves reporting the matter to HR, but you should check your employment manual. Often, victims are afraid to report sexual harassment. This is especially true if the offender is in a position of power. Sexual harassment is often committed by a supervisor, a manager, a business owner, or other high-level positions. You should not have to suffer sexual advances. An employment law firm can assist you in drafting a formal complaint and proceeding with litigation or settlement discussions.

Title VII only applies to employers that have at least 15 employees. However, it also applies to the federal government, state government, local government, labor organizations, and employment agencies. New York State and New York City laws apply to employers that have less than 15 employees.

Filing a Charge with the EEOC

A prerequisite to pursuing damages under federal sexual harassment laws is filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will examine the entire record, including the circumstances of the harassment and the context of it. If you want to proceed with your sexual harassment case under New York State discrimination laws or New York City sexual harassment laws, you do not have to file with the EEOC.


Under Title VII, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment to HR, filing a charge with the EEOC, or filing a sexual harassment lawsuit. It is also unlawful for your employer to retaliate against you for testifying, cooperating, or participating in any way in a Title VII investigation or proceeding. Your attorney can help you bring a related claim for retaliation if you have been subject to it.

Harassment by Supervisors

Under Title VII, employers can be vicariously liable for their supervisors' unlawful harassment. This means that the employer is responsible for a supervisor’s acts and that employers are supposed to act to prevent sexual harassment in the first place. An employer is always liable for a supervisor's sexual harassment if it concludes in a tangible employment action. If the sexual harassment by a supervisor does not conclude in a tangible employment action, an employer can avoid or limit damages by putting forward an affirmative defense that it used reasonable care to try to prevent the sexual harassment, but the employee unreasonably did not utilize the preventive or corrective steps that the employer put in place to avoid harm. This defense gives employers credit for taking preventive steps. Thus, you should report sexual harassment to your employer to give it the opportunity to take the appropriate steps and fix the situation.

Employers can also be held liable for coworker sexual harassment under Title VII if they knew or should have known about the harassment. However, they can defend themselves by showing that they took immediate and appropriate steps to correct the problem.

Consult a Sexual Harassment Lawyer in New York City or Beyond

At Phillips & Associates, we provide knowledgeable, aggressive legal representation to people harmed by violations of federal sexual harassment laws in New York City. Our sexual harassment attorneys may be able to develop a strategy to pursue damages from your employer. Our employment law firm can also assist you in drafting a formal complaint of sexual harassment, which will put your employer and the harasser on notice. This way, if they terminate you or retaliate in any other way, your complaint will be well documented and provide you with another cause of action for retaliation. We fight employment discrimination and harassment in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, as well as Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Westchester, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or complete our online form.

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