What behavior constitutes harassment in the workplace?
Many workers are unhappy at their jobs or complain about their bosses or annoying supervisors. But when does behavior cross the line from disrespectful to discrimination and from inappropriate to harassment? Each case requires a subjective evaluation of the facts and evidence.
Consider the pending Manhattan Supreme Court case against Peter Marino, a leather-clad, allegedly self-proclaimed “perv” male architect boss accused of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment toward his gay male textile designer employee. The employee claims he was repeatedly subjected to taunts and unwanted offers of sex, called a “f----t”, and was flashed by the boss whose penchant for low-cut leather clothes exposed his pubic hair, butt crack, and even his genitalia. After complaining, the employee, who is still working, alleges further harassment and retaliation ensued.
Interestingly, in a separate pending harassment claim against the same boss, a 15-year veteran female employee alleges she was fired in retaliation after confronting the boss for calling her a “c—t” loud enough for others to hear. He claims he called her a “cow”, and that it was an isolated incident that was “possibly derogatory”, but not discriminatory. The judge denied the motion to dismiss the case, which is still pending.
In New York, employees are protected by federal, state, and city laws designed to ensure their right to a workplace that is free from both sexual and nonsexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can occur when a boss demands sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a job, promotion, or raise, or when an employee rebuffs those sexual advances and the rejected boss retaliates by firing, disciplining, or giving a poor employee performance review. In addition, sexual harassment can stem from a hostile work environment wherein the employee has been subjected to a pattern of unwanted sexual comments, behavior, or visual displays which have caused a distressing or offensive work environment for the employee.
There are also cases of non-sexual harassment in the workplace which involve offensive comments or behavior based on a protected characteristic (such as gender, age, and more) meant to intimidate the employee and create a hostile work environment.
In addition to proving s/he complained about the offensive behavior to a supervisor and that no action was taken to stop it, an employee seeking to pursue a claim should document the incidents of sexual harassment in detail and note any witnesses. Harassment claims may be made against supervisors of the opposite sex or the same sex. Employers are also prohibited by law from retaliating against employees who complain of harassment.
If you prevail, you may be awarded damages for lost wages, back and/or front pay, lost bonuses, lost benefits, compensatory damages, and reinstatement. In addition, you may be able to recover for emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, depending on whether you bring a claim in state or federal court.
If you’ve been victimized by a boss or supervisor or retaliated against for making a complaint, you need an experienced attorney to help put an end to your ongoing workplace humiliation. If you’re an employer in need of policies to avoid harassment and retaliation claims or you need assistance defending a harassment or retaliation claim, we can help. The Law Offices of Yale Pollack, P.C. in Syosset, New York, serves Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Manhattan, and Queens in all phases of Employment Law. Contact the office today at (516) 262-5028 or online.