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Harassment at Holiday Parties

New York City Lawyers Fighting for Your Workplace Rights

Many employers throw holiday parties so that managers, supervisors, coworkers, and clients can relax together. However, in some instances, alcohol is consumed to excess. An atmosphere of relaxed inhibitions can result in harassment at holiday parties. If your employer sponsored a holiday party at which you were harassed either verbally or physically based on a protected trait, such as your race or sex, you may have a claim for damages. At Phillips & Associates, our New York City harassment lawyers can help you assert your rights.

Types of Harassment at Holiday Parties

Sometimes supervisors, coworkers, or clients relax a little too much at a holiday party. They may make remarks or act differently based on an employee's sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or color. An employer can be held responsible for harassment by a coworker, supervisor, manager, or customer, even if the office holiday party was after-hours, over the weekend, or held somewhere other than the office.

Harassment must be based on a protected characteristic to be actionable. There are multiple federal laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment. One important law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits harassment based on race, sex, color, national origin, and religion. You can hold your employer liable for a hostile work environment created by the harassment of a coworker, supervisor, manager, or customer at a holiday party, if the harassment arose from a protected characteristic. For example, if you are Black and your coworkers put on a minstrel show at the holiday party and did blackface, while your supervisors simply smiled and laughed along, you may have a claim for a hostile work environment based on race.

Moreover, your employer can be held liable for quid pro quo harassment at a holiday party based on your sex. For example, if your manager groped you and tried to have sex with you in the restaurant bathroom during a holiday party, while he claimed that he would fire you if you did not comply, an attorney can help you bring a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment.

A harassment claim brought under Title VII or one of the other federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) must be filed as a charge with the EEOC prior to being pursued in litigation.

State and Local Law Claims for Holiday Party Harassment

There are more expansive protections for other characteristics under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law. Generally, there is greater protection against racial harassment under the city law, for example. While federal law does not expressly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and harassment, the state and city laws do. If, for example, your coworkers taunt you for being lesbian at a holiday party, and your supervisor encourages them, you may have a basis to pursue damages for sexual orientation harassment.


If your attorney can establish liability for harassment at a holiday party, you may be able to recover damages. The amount and nature of the damages that are available to you depend on the law under which you pursued your claim. For example, damages are capped under Title VII and other federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For another example, punitive damages are not available under the New York State Human Rights Law. Accordingly, if there is particularly egregious harassment at a holiday party, you may be better off pursuing your claim under the New York City Human Rights Law, which does allow for punitive damages.

Consult an Experienced Harassment Lawyer in New York City

Harassment at holiday parties based on sex, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics can be distressing and result in economic harm. If you believe that you have been victimized by this behavior, you should consult our firm. Contact Phillips & Associates at (833) 529-3476 or through our online form for a free consultation. Our attorneys handle employment cases throughout New York City, as well as in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties and in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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