The #MeToo movement has sensitized many people to the importance of taking allegations of sexual misconduct seriously. However, victims still face challenges. In particular, the legal system operates on evidence, and far too many sexual harassment cases consist of nothing more than “he said, she said” situations.
At Wagner Zemming Christensen, Attorneys at Law, we help men and women harassed on the job get a measure of justice by bringing a discrimination charge and, if necessary, a lawsuit. However, we need our clients to document the harassment as best as they can so that we can sway even the most skeptical juror.
Below, our California sexual harassment lawyer offers 5 important ways to build a case against an employer.
#1: Preserve All Harassing Communications
If your harasser sent an offensive email, voicemail message, or handwritten note, then you should hold onto it. Don’t delete anything! As harassers get bolder, they often commit their harassment to some tangible form, which makes it much easier for us to prove that harassment occurred.
Remember, harassment can be either a quid pro quo situation—“Have sex with me or I’ll fire you” or “I’ll promote you if you sleep with me.” But it can also exist where the workplace is hostile on the basis of sex.
If your boss propositioned you by email, great. Hold onto that email. Send a copy to your personal email address so even if your boss accesses your computer to delete it, you still have a copy.
But also preserve any communication that could be viewed as harassing on the basis of sex. Anything that contains a slur, sexual innuendo, joke, epithet, or gross generalization about men or women (e.g., “all women are terrible managers”) could be helpful in establishing that a workplace was abusive and degrading.
If someone saw harassing conduct and wrote to you about it, save that, too. That helps create a record of what witnesses saw.
#2: Identify Witnesses to the Harassment
A witness is anyone other than the harasser who saw offensive conduct. If a secretary overhead your boss make a quid pro quo, then we can talk to her and get her to bolster your side of the story.
If a colleague, vendor, or customer observed harassing conduct—an off-color joke, sexual innuendo, inappropriate touching, anything like that—we also want to talk to them. Their testimony can help establish that the workplace was hostile on the basis of sex.
#3: Speak to Other Victims of Harassment
Other people at work might have been targeted for harassment, too. You should talk to them. Get their names and find out whether they were propositioned by a boss. We can use this evidence to establish a pattern of conduct. It might also be helpful in analyzing whether human resources took complaints about harassment seriously. The sad fact is that abuse rarely happens to only one person on a job. Usually, many people are negatively impacted but few speak up.
#4: Document Harassment outside of Work
Some abusive people harass our clients even outside of work, calling their homes or cell phones to leave sexually suggestive messages. Always hold onto this evidence as well. Even if it didn’t happen at work, we can often use this evidence to strengthen our hand in negotiations.
#5: Complain to Human Resources about the Harassment
Victims of workplace sexual harassment have many rights, including the right to make a charge of discrimination and sue for compensation. If you were harassed by a supervisor, then the employer is often automatically liable under the law.
However, if you are complaining about a hostile workplace, there is often a catch: employers can sometimes escape liability if a person was harassed by a co-worker but the company took appropriate and timely efforts to stop it. Basically, this means an employer has a chance to ameliorate the harassment by disciplining workers. If you don’t give them notice of the harassment, then you are weakening your case.
Most employers have procedures in place for reporting harassment. Read your employee handbook or manual and report the harassment in a timely manner.
Contact a Lawyer
This is also an important step. An attorney can help a person find relevant, helpful evidence that harassment has taken place, often before the employee leaves the job. By waiting too long, many workers make it harder to make the case that a work environment was hostile.
At Wagner Zemming Christensen, our team has helped many workers bring successful cases for sexual harassment. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation.