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Victory in Groundbreaking Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim

Phillips & Associates, Attorneys at Law

In June 2018, our firm won a groundbreaking victory that sets an important precedent. The District Court of the Eastern District of New York ruled that a hug-from-behind by a supervisor in the workplace can establish a hostile work environment for sexual harassment claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII has a high bar for sexual harassment claims, so this is a critical decision for civil rights in the workplace. New York City sexual harassment lawyers can use this decision as a valuable precedent in future cases.

Sexual harassment that creates a hostile work environment is actionable under federal, state, and local laws in New York City. The harassment may consist of innuendoes, jokes, touching, groping, rape, violence, derogatory comments, pranks, and other offensive actions. However, the law that is being applied will determine whether the harassment rises to the level of hostile work environment harassment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law require that harassment be severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment. Pervasive conduct is usually conduct that happens repeatedly. For example, if your coworker repeatedly propositions you and makes lewd remarks, even after you request that he stop, this may be pervasive. Severe conduct can happen only once and be actionable, but the act must be traumatic. For example, if your boss grabbed your breasts, this would likely be considered severe. The ruling that our firm recently won related to hugs from behind, which the court found could meet the standard of conduct that is severe enough to constitute a hostile work environment.

However, the New York City Human Rights Law has more liberal standards in order to incentivize the creation of a zero-tolerance workplace policy against degrading conduct toward members of protected classes. You do not need to show materially adverse employment actions or severe or pervasive conduct to win a hostile work environment claim under the New York City Human Rights Law. Instead, you need to show that the discriminatory actions at issue were not simply a borderline slight but were more than what a reasonable victim of discrimination would deem to be petty slights and trivial inconveniences. It is not relevant whether a statement was isolated. Even a single comment might be actionable. It is crucial, however, that the behavior be motivated by your protected status. You must be able to show that you were treated less well than other employees were because of your sex. The burden then would be on your employer to show that the harassment was a petty slight or trivial inconvenience.

If you believe that you have been a victim of sexual harassment in a New York City workplace, you should consult us. You can contact Phillips & Associates at (833) 529-3476 or through our online form. We handle employment litigation in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties and in New Jersey.

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