It is unlawful for an employer to harass an employee on the basis of that employee’s age, race, gender, orientation, or mental or physical disability. Except in the special case of sexual harassment (discussed below), unlawful harassment is unlawful when the conduct rises to such a level that it creates a hostile work environment for the employee. Thus, for example, somebody who is harassed because of his or her gender may hold the employer liable for such harassment if the actions rise to the level of creating a hostile work environment. There is no set test for this, and the level of harassment necessary to create a cause of action ranges from one or two serious incidents to a multitude of small incidents that, taken together, create a hostile working environment.
This is by far the most common, and there are two types of sexual harassment: (1) Hostile workplace harassment, and (2) quid pro quo sexual harassment. In the first case, as with any other form of harassment, this becomes actionable when the harassment rises to a level that creates a hostile working environment. Again, this can consist of one single event, or a series of relatively minor events. Whether or not the activity rises to the level of ìharassmentî is determined on a case-by-case basis. At Ainley Law, we are expert at determining whether or not any specific set of circumstances rises to the level needed to prevail on a claim of sexual harassment based on hostile work environment.
The second type of sexual harassment, quid pro quo harassment, is harassment in which the employer requires an employee to submit to some form of sexual demand in exchange for an employment-related benefit, including continued employment.
Cases of sexual harassment are highly fact-specific and require a great deal of sensitivity and care in how they are handled. The plaintiff in a sexual harassment lawsuit also enjoys special protections against intrusion into her private life. For example, her prior relationships, history, proclivities, and interests are off limits during discovery, whereas similar questions may be legitimate in other types of cases.